Hong Kong's Top 10... Bygone festivals

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1. The Festival of Hong Kong

This grand fest only ran for three years – 1969, 71 and 73. It was the largest ever in the city at that time and sought to ease the tension of the 1967 riots. It was definitely the most monumental too, with parades, concerts, dances, airshows, sports and much more taking place across the whole city in the hope of sparking a sense of HK pride and a collective identity. Each celebration lasted seven to 10 days – but it was disbanded, partly because it took so much effort to organise.

2. Harbourfest

Jump back to post-SARS 2003. Do you remember Harbourfest? This was a massive attempt to encourage tourism back into the city. Organisers pulled out all the stops, hiring Prince, Charlotte Church and The Rolling Stones. But, alas, no-one had learned how to run a music fest so it ended up being a shambles. Sales were poor and then acts cancelled, so tickets had to be given away, infuriating those who’d paid. It ended up costing more than $150m. And an investigation later revealed The Stones rolled off with US$5m. No satisfaction indeed.

3. Legends of China 

The first LoC Fest, in 2001, celebrated traditional Chinese opera with hundreds of shows over three months. It showcased Kunqu, Peking, Cantonese and Chiu Chow operas, as well as other grand stage productions. It was held again in 2003, expanding and incorporating modern techniques into the acts. But, sadly, it was never held again.

4. Live Under the Sky

The first jazz festival in Hong Kong was a Japanese import. Live Under the Sky had been a hit in Japan and arrived here in 1987, lasting for five years and pulling in 2,300 cool cats annually. The three-day concert had a hot reputation for serving up top acts like jazz legend Miles Davis and the awesome Sun Ra Arkestra.

5. Festival of Vision

In 2000, post-handover Hong Kong was feeling like it could use a friend – and a post-reunified Berlin felt the same way. So the two cities bonded and thus the one-off Festival of Vision: Hong Kong – Berlin,
a double-city arts festival where each displayed works from the other, was held. It brought new meaning to the phrase ‘ich bin ein Hongkonger’.

6. Hong Kong Week

Originally meant to promote trade and industry, this 1967 fest somehow wound up as a series of entertainment and sports events, with parades, floats and pageants taking centre-stage. The violent 1967 riots left tensions high and organisers tried to incorporate more public activities to help brighten the mood. The week became the predecessor to the Festival of Hong Kong, as people realised they needed a good ol’ party. And who can blame them? Trade shows are boring. 

7. RockIt Music Festival

In 2003, a band of music lovers decided Hong Kong would no longer be seen as a cultural desert for rock. One of the first outdoor rock festivals here, the event didn’t discriminate when it came to good music. Local artists played alongside big names in the multiple-day event. It was frankly much better than Harbourfest and lasted annually until 2006, when co-founder Nimal moved to the USA, leaving Jay and the crew to form some other fest, called Clockenflap, apparently.

8. Hong Kong International Kung Fu Festival

This kung fu free-for-all was a carnival, multimedia exhibition, symposium and competition all in one. The one-off 2009 event celebrated the culture of kung fu in film, TV, martial arts novels, magazines, comics and graphic novels. Events included live demos and classes on the Avenue of the Stars and a world kung fu contest. We got a kick out of it.

9. The Festival of Asian Arts

Where the Hong Kong Arts Festival carries an international flavour, The Festival of Asian Art, between 1976 and 1998, kept it old school with traditional cultural acts. The event was the annual showpiece organised by the pre-LCSD Urban Council and featured parades, as well as opera, dance and theatre performances accompanied by live orchestras. 

10. City Hall Book Fair

Okay, we now have the annual HK Book Fair at the HKCEC every year. But that’s only because a bunch of eager publishers held their own little fest back in 1989 at City Hall. The HKTDC was impressed and so the fair moved to the HKCEC the next year, before slowly becoming the literary monster it is today. Ying Lo

 Images courtesy of HKSAR (Festival of Hong Kong, Legends of China, Hong Kong Week)

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