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Dr. YANG Leung Yin-fong Katie

75th Congregation (2013)

Dr. YANG Leung Yin-fong Katie
Doctor of Social Science


In the chapter “Record on the Subject of Education” of the ancient classic Book of Rites, it says, “A good singer passes down his voice; a good teacher passes down his aspiration.” Simply put, those with a talent for singing touch the public with their beautiful voices, but those with a talent for teaching establish standards and set an example for others to follow. For the past century, Cantonese opera has dominated the opera scene in southern China. Among its greatest talents are the “Three Kings of the Opera World”, whose illustrious achievements set them apart. They are the King of Man Mou Sang, a male scholar-warrior role, the late Sun Ma Sze-tsang; the King of Chou Sang, a male clown role, the late Leung Sing-po; and a woman who has graced the stage for over half a century, and who is standing on the stage here, the Queen of Female Principals, Dr Yang Leung Yin-fong Katie. Dr Katie Yang, better known by her stage name Fong Yim-fun, is a native of Enping, Guangdong Province. Young Leung grew up with her single mother, a fan of Cantonese opera, which gave her plenty of opportunity to learn an appreciation of the art. She developed an interest in it at an early age, and spotting her talent, Leung’s mother took her to the Kwok Sing Theatre to learn how to perform Cantonese opera. This marked the beginning of her colourful and legendary career. Leung studied with the theatre’s teacher Pak Kit-cho. With a naturally enchanting voice and relentless practice, she laid a strong foundation for her future theatrical career there. Later, she joined the Shing Sou Lin Opera Troupe and made her stage debut. Joined by Hung Sin Nui, another legendary performer, they were known as the troupe’s “little palace maids”. In 1941, Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese army, prompting Leung to join a troupe in Guangzhou as the secondary Faa Daan, where her stage name ‘Fong Yim-fun’ was bestowed by the troupe’s director Yik Kim-chuen. At the age of 16, Fong returned to Hong Kong and joined the Great East Asia Troupe. Just before the opening performance, however, the troupe’s leading female principal was delayed by transport and could not make the show. The troupe decided to change the cast, promoting Fong from supporting to leading female principal. Fong’s first performance under the spotlight was a massive success, cementing her status in the troupe. In 1943, Fong joined Law Kar-kuen’s Chow Fung Nin Troupe and shone as its leading female principal. After the war, Fong Yim-fun joined the Tai Lung Fung Opera Troupe, performing in collaboration with fellow opera greats such as Sun Ma Sze-tsang. In the play Legend of the White Snake, she sang the song “Worship of the Tower Lui Fung” in an innovative style, fanxian erhuang manban. Her soft and graceful voice, brimming with sorrow and melancholy, drew out the lingering melody. With her unique style, dubbed Fong style, admired by fans across Hong Kong and Guangdong, she quickly shot to stardom. Her mellow, feminine and memorable voice epitomised the tender and sweet-natured essence of the traditional Chinese woman. Good wine needs no bush. Since achieving fame in the 1950s, the Fong style has become a standard for female vocalists for more than 60 years, attracting followers such as Li Fen-fong, Tsui Miu-chi, Lee Bo-ying, and Nam Fung, collectively called “Singers of the Fong Style”. This vocal style has had an impact so far-reaching that it has even flourished as a subject of academic research and publication in both Hong Kong and Guangdong. Fong Yim-fun again returned to Hong Kong in 1949. She brought together the Yim Hoi Tong troupe with Chan Yin-tong, and in 1953 founded herself the Sun Yim Yeung Opera Troupe, producing many popular plays between 1954 and 1958. Hailed as “the troupe of the generation”, it had a profound influence on the development of Cantonese opera in Hong Kong. Under Fong’s leadership, the troupe strived to enhance the literary and educational value of its plays. The play A Forsaken Woman for instance, was written by legendary playwright Tang Ti-sheng, based on the story of Xiang Lin Sao from Lu Xun’s renowned novel New Year Sacrifice. In the play, the character of Mrs Cheng had a miserable and tragic life that epitomised the fate of women in the 1950s. Acting as Mr Cheng, Fong’s passionate performance gripped the audience, demonstrating the remarkable perseverance and resolute morals of the traditional Chinese woman. Her memorable act remains a classic, inspiring many to remain strong in adversity. In the 1950s, as film emerged as the leading form of entertainment, Cantonese opera made the transition from the theatre to the silver screen. Starting in 1950, Fong starred in leading roles in a great number of movies. In 1953, she founded Zhili Film Company with her own capital and participated in film production. In addition to Cantonese opera adaptations from her Sun Yim Yeung Opera Troupe such as Buddhist Recluse for Fourteen Years, the Nymph of River Lo, The tragic story of Leung Shan-pak and Chuk Ying-toi, and Lest we forget, she also starred in romances, tragedies and comedies depicting social life, excelling at a variety of roles. These movies include Hongling’s Blood, Belle of Penang, and The Sweepstakes Seller. Fong’s starring turn in over 150 movies earned her critical acclaim from audiences and film-makers alike. The thriving Zhili Film Company was also due to Dr Fong’s vision and determination. In the high-grossing movie Belle of Penang, she sang the titular theme song, which later became a classic hit of the early Cantonese pop, covered time and again by singers over the last 60 years. It begins, “Malaya in spring is covered with stunning greenery. Coconut tree shadows decorate the seaside, making picturesque scenery.” Though performed by many different singers over the past 60 years, the fans’ love for Fong remains unchanged. With marvellous artistry, she has shown consummate mastery of her craft, from her performance of Cantonese opera to pop songs, with a silvery voice that has proven timeless. In 1959, Fong married Dr Yang Kyung Waung and retired from the entertainment industry to focus on caring for her husband and children. With great love for each other, the couple have enjoyed a happy and successful family life for over 50 years. In 1984, Dr Yang and her friend Dr Lee Tseng Chiu-kwan founded the Kwan Fong Charitable Foundation to promote charitable causes. In 1987, she took the stage again to perform, raising HK$12 million to benefit many charitable organisations in Hong Kong. In 1988, the Kwan Fong Charitable Foundation raised HK$40 million in support of construction projects ranging from schools to hospitals. Dr Yang also set up the Kwan Fong Trust Fund for the Needy in the Social Welfare Department. She and sponsored the establishment of the Sage Kwan Fong Nim Chee Home for the Elderly under the Hong Kong Society for the Aged, a school for retarded children in Hong Kong, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Child Care Centre, and Kai Chi School. The beneficiaries of Dr Yang’s charitable efforts are countless. Having grown up under the influence of a kind-hearted mother, Dr Yang enjoys helping others, and her successful career prompted her to do even more. Despite her retirement, Dr Yang stayed in close touch with Cantonese opera. To provide residences for aged musicians, she generously donated one of her properties to be the permanent office of the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong. She is also the Honorary Life Chairman of the Association. In 2012, Dr Yang sponsored Shaw College of The Chinese University of Hong Kong in promoting opera through the Art of Fong Yim-fun Sustainability Project. As a keen promoter of Cantonese opera, Dr Yang helped found the Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture at California Lutheran University, in an effort to help overseas Chinese understand and appreciate their own culture. She once said, “Cantonese opera is like a textbook which teaches us how to cope with life. The stories in opera are all about morality, justice, loyalty and filial piety. When children watch Cantonese opera, they learn that good deeds are rewarded and wicked deeds punished.” With a passion and enthusiasm for education, Dr Yang strives to inspire and encourage young people to care for society, and in her humility and sincerity she has been hailed as a role model for female educators. Though her formal education has been unconventional – she was enrolled in primary school at age seven but withdrew after three years due to the war – she learnt from Cantonese opera the proper way not only to live one’s life, but to go forth and practice good deeds and to contribute to all humanity, which is truly deserving of applause. With her glittering achievements in performing arts and tremendous contributions to charity, Dr Yang was awarded Doctor of Humane Letters by California Lutheran University in 1995. In the same year, she was made Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. In 1998, she received the Honorary Fellowship of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and Honorary Fellow of The University of Hong Kong. In 2003, she was conferred the Bronze Bauhinia Star by the Hong Kong government. In 2004, she received the award Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa conferred by Lingnan University. Together let us pay tribute to a revolutionary artist with outstanding achievements; an accomplished singer with a sweet voice that has lingered in our souls for half a century; a respected elder with a kind and generous heart; and a devoted educator who earnestly cares for society. Mr Chairman, I have the great honour of presenting to you Dr Yang Leung Yin-fong Katie, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa.