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Humans of Hong Kong: Rewriting the script with Derreck Kwok

By Celia Lee 19 January 2023 | Last Updated 19 January 2024

Chinese calligraphy is an intangible cultural heritage, and one that has seen a reduced number of practitioners as the years pass. We spoke with Derreck Kwok Teng-lung about his efforts in preserving and continuing this traditional craft in the heart of Sheung Wan. Join us as he details his learning journey, shares his experiences in practising street calligraphy, and why he has taken up this practice in the middle of a bustling neighbourhood.

“I picked up calligraphy in my teens, out of personal interest. I have learnt from the styles of Chinese calligraphy masters by practising, observing, and studying their work.”

“In 1986, I was working as the owner of a local glassware factory, which gave me more time to practice calligraphy along the way, given the nature of being an owner.

“Apart from calligraphy, I was also interested in traditional antiquity, an interest that relates to my love for Chinese calligraphy. In collecting antiques and practising calligraphy, I am more aware of Chinese and Hong Kong cultural heritage and history. In this way, I can advertise these unique aspects of the people to the world.”

“Some tourists like to have a Chinese name, and if they give me their name, I will write their name out in words that make sense in Chinese. I choose words that will match in meaning and sound to their name, and their personality. I believe they will cherish this Chinese name I have given them long after leaving my stall.”

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“Out of all the styles I have learnt, I have modelled my work so it is the most comfortable way for me to write. I also add my own interpretation into the process, making my own version and inputting this into the traditional form of Chinese calligraphy.

“My stall is open year-round and I do fai chun (揮春) calligraphy. My favourite Chinese New Year greeting to write is ‘招財進寶’ (ziu1 coi4 zeon3 bou2; “beckoning wealth, welcoming treasures”). I also like writing the word ‘神’ (san4; “deity” or “god”). For this greeting, I crafted a stylised boat radical (辶) in my own distinct style, which makes the head of the radical look like a woman dancing ballet instead of a simple prow of a boat. Particularly in this phrase, it looks like the woman at the head of the boat radical is kneeling in prayer at a temple, praying for wealth and prosperity as wished for in the phrase. You can see the same woman in ‘神’ and many other characters in my works.”

“I set up my stall here [on Ladder Street in Sheung Wan] because there are a lot of young people and schoolchildren that pass by this area; students coming in and out of school. I hope that I can show them traditional Chinese crafts and teach them how to write calligraphy because there are not enough people practising this skill, and there are even fewer people teaching it and pursuing it at a professional level.

“I am getting on in years. I hope that in my time, I can use quick, precise methods to pass on traditional calligraphy. I hope to make the younger generation more aware of this heritage from our culture so they can extend it beyond my time.

“I could say that I have taught people from all around the world how to write Chinese calligraphy at my stall, and they were very happy after being taught this craft.”

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Celia Lee

Staff writer

Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in the UK, Celia is passionate about culture, food, and different happenings in the city. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her scouting for new and trendy restaurants, getting lost in a bookstore, or baking up a storm at home.