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The Chinese calligraphy behind a neon sign: a sunset industry reflourishing?

When you pay close attention to the corners and gaps of this city, the neon signs hold the nostalgic side of this metropolis-- be it still sparkling, drizzling or already lights out. Surrounded by a bright yellow lightbox with painted words ‘Zan1 Tai2 Zi6 'and emblazoned with white, red and fluorescent signboards, a man is repeatedly hand-writing to keep this tangible culture alive in a tiny corner shop in North Point for over 30 years.

Au Yeung-cheong, the owner of King Wah  Signboards has been running his business by writing specific calligraphy on the signboards  “It is zan1 tai2 zi6!”  Mr Au exclaimed.  He emphasized there are oblivious differences between Traditional Chinese calligraphy and zan1 tai1 zi6. 

Mr Au sits in front of the shop and proudly shows his work. He started learning zan1 tai2 zi6 when he was a kid. His mother was the one who had always been emphasizing the importance of writing zan1 tai2 zi6, which also influenced him to start the business - King Wah Signboards.
King Wah Signboards first founded in the State Theatre Building, a graded historic building in North Point, in the 1980s. However, due to the compulsory sale for the redevelopment of the State Theatre Building this year, the shop now relocated to Kam Ping Street in the same district.
The shop sells signboards and lightboxes with zan1 tai1 zi6, a kind of Chinese calligraphy. Without any official English translation at the moment, it is understood as ‘the true Traditional Chinese.’ It is a mutation of BeiWei Style, which is another kind of ancient Traditional Chinese calligraphy.
A customer expressed confusion over the Chinese calligraphy and said they were obtrusive, Mr Au then was showing her the differences between Traditional Chinese and zan1 tau2 zi6. “This is what makes zan1 tai2 zi6 more precious and worth learning than other calligraphy,” Mr Au explained. “It has so many details. Every stroke has its own rule, you have to be mindful when putting pen to every single stroke.”
A Chinese brush soaked with red ink, a white signboard and a pair of skilled hands, that is all Mr Au needs to finish a piece of Chinese calligraphy work.
“The strokes look so languish. Have you ever seen a dog without a tail? These words are just like that,” said Mr Au, pointing at a picture of a signboard with Traditional Chinese calligraphy on his mobile. He then repeatedly vociferated the example of the tailless dog while bustling around his store to get his products and show how energetic and spirited zan1 tai2 zi6 is.
Mr Au believes that zan1 tai2 zi6 is the only real Chinese calligraphy and it is the veritas. Any other Chinese calligraphies were said to be heterodox.“I want more children and teenagers to learn zan1 tai2 zi6 and pass it on,” said Mr Au. “Otherwise, no one would know about the real Chinese characters in the future.”
Chan Yun-ming, a student of Mr Au was practicing the basic handwriting skills of zan1 tai2 zi6. “I think it is interesting and it looks very refined,” said Mr Chan, He has been learning za1 tai2 zi6 for a year and a half since his grandpa is a friend of Mr Au's and soon he decided to take calligraphy lessons from Mr Au.
“None of my friends is interested in learning calligraphy,” said Mr Chan. “And many people think I am learning it because my parents asked me to.” Mr Chan enjoyed practicing calligraphy though Mr Au had been strict on every stroke he wrote.
King Wah Signboards was the only store that stood until the last moment before the closing down of the State Theatre Building. It had drawn attention to various online media and many had interviewed Mr Au. Many citizens learned about Mr Au and King Wah Signboards because of the reports and visited him as he reopened.
Lai Tung-mo, a customer of the King Wah Signboards came all the way from New Territories West to visit Mr Au to take photos, as he would like to devote effort to preserve this Hong Kong cultural heritage. “The responsibility or obligation to protect this sunset art mainly lies on the general public,” said Mr Lai “Not only for this local art but all of the others as well. If the neighborhood around is willing to treasure and promote it, they would be able to stay longer.”
Even if the government is willing to formulate measures to help these sunset industries, it would still be unlikely for them to survive if the community overlooks them, Mr Lai added.
Mr Lai used the camera to save memories between Mr Au and his Chinese calligraphy, zan1 tai2 zi6 or even more, the Hong Kong history behind. as he believed Mr Au and his calligraphy were on the verge of being washed out in this rapid-developing city.
Even though Mr Au is still running the business, there is uncertainty about the future of the industry. “I don’t know, maybe I will move back to my hometown soon,” said Mr Au when being asked if he had any plan of retirement. “But even if I move back to my hometown, I will not stop writing zan1 tai2 zi6.”

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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