Mr Cheng Kok-kong
Honorary University Fellow (2016)
If young students of the present generation are asked of the Canto-pop lyricists they know, they should be able to come up with a number of names. However, if we must identify a first-generation lyricist who can most represent Hong Kong, then all Hong Kong people will unanimously suggest Mr Cheng Kok-kong, who enjoys the reputation of being the "artisan lyricist par excellence". Mr Cheng studied in the Department of Communication of the Hong Kong Baptist College between 1968 and 1971, and then taught at the Ng Wah Catholic Primary School for thirty years. In his spare time he began to take an interest in the creation of theme songs for drama series on television, and gradually became a lyricist that can truly be called a household name. Together with other musicians, Mr Cheng played a most significant part in the fostering of the 1970's and the 1980's as the golden age of Canto-pop. There are over two thousand works to his credit; most of them are now essential materials for research on lyrics created in Hong Kong, and among them there are many classics immensely popular with the general public.
Mr Cheng's musical achievements are very extensively recognised by the arts community, as witnessed by the many awards in popular music that he has garnered over the years. These have included the Best Chinese (Pop) Lyrics Award, the Golden Needle Award, and the Silver Jubilee Music Award, the CASH Hall of Fame Award presented by the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong in 2002, and the Outstanding Lyricist Award by the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies in 2008, which are all industry pinnacles handed out only to artists of exceptional merit. Mr Cheng also wrote the theme songs for the 50th and the 60th anniversaries of Hong Kong Baptist University, adding vibrant and glorious colours to the celebration activities.
A common element found in all the works of Mr Cheng is that his lyrics are always inspirational. He said, "However mournful a song I may have composed, I will make it lift the spirit by the end." Thus lyrics are, to Mr Cheng Kok-kong, a powerful medium for the dissemination of positive energy. Over the years Mr Cheng has written the lyrics for a large number of songs on child-related themes, among them the much loved When We Were Young and Dr. Slump, and these compositions have accompanied successive generations of young people in Hong Kong as they grow up in the years of childhood bliss. Many of Mr Cheng's works also carry a strong expression of social consciousness, for example The Hong Kong Heart that called all citizens to rallied efforts in the fight against the SARS epidemic, and Love, which contributed to the relief fund for victims of the South Asia Tsunami. In 1990 he wrote This Is Our Home which soon became a cultural icon for the people of Hong Kong: the lyrics exhorted Hong Kong citizens to hold steadfast to their faith in the future and brave the times ahead, amidst the political uncertainties prevalent in those days.
Mr Cheng shared an anecdote with me a little while ago. Some years back he received a letter from a manufacturer based in Dongguan whom he had never met before, in which the manufacturer most sincerely requested Mr Cheng to attend the tenth anniversary celebration of his factory. It so happened that the gentleman in question was once the owner of a good many factories which, owing to changes in business circumstances, all came to naught in one go. Being totally heart-broken he went up to the roof and, just as he was about to take the leap, lines from Mr Cheng's song suddenly began to resound in his mind: "Let every light lit up hope, and let the lights be woven to become an illuminating web of hope." "Hope lights up our darkness, and together we will build our future." The lyrics stayed his steps towards the edge of the roof, and encouraged him to pull himself together to overcome the difficulties ahead. From that time on, this manufacturer would gather his colleagues together every Monday in the singing of This Is Our Home. Now this story has helped Mr Cheng to realise that "We will never know when and who we have inspired and encouraged, by what we said and what we did", and this is why he insists that his lyrics must at all times serve as a vehicle for positive energy.
The lyrics of Mr Cheng have functioned as an important channel through which students and teachers may communicate with him. He is an untiring advocate for educational activities on lyrics composition, and hosted the Workshop on Lyrics Writing under the Arts and Cultural Programme of the Centre for Holistic Teaching and Learning at HKBU. "I am glad to share what I have learnt with present day students and let them benefit from it", Mr Cheng said.
We asked Mr Cheng which song he would like to present to students of the Hong Kong Baptist University as a gift, and he promptly responded by quoting from Rambling Down the Path of Life: "There is no need to be calculating, but make haste to appreciate the bliss and beauty of every day. Be always convinced that the good times and pretty landscape of life are ever within your reach." These lines clearly demonstrate Mr Cheng Kok-kong's character as a gentlemanly man-of-letters who has dedicated all his efforts and intentions to inspiring others to a positive attitude towards life, and to the promotion of arts and cultural pursuits among the Hong Kong public and, as such, a perfect model for the University's Honorary Fellowship.