The stylistic development of Chinese traditional theatre has been shaped by religious opera from its earliest origins to the modern day. Every year, up to 40 series of Cantonese opera and more than 200 shows take place in Hong Kong. Organised by local communities, and staged by professional troupes in temporary bamboo theatres, the performances celebrate the birthdays of gods and provide sacred and secular entertainment to highlight purification rituals and initiation rituals for new temples. 

Using ethnographic data and images collected over 30 years around Hong Kong, this talk looks at aspects such as: features of traditional religions, organisation of performances, related religious rituals and secular activities, formation of opera troupes,  artists and performances, and the inevitable but sad decline of a tradition whose preservation depends on its self-sustainability and ability to respond to the challenges of a market-oriented economy.

5 August 2017 (Saturday) (Conducted in Chinese) *The talk is now full.
12 August 2017 (Saturday) (Conducted in English)

3:00pm – 4:15pm

HKU SPACE International College - United Learning Centre
(6/F, United Centre, 95 Queensway, Hong Kong - Exit D, Admiralty MTR Station)

Prof. Chan Sau-yan

Free admission. Limited capacity on a first-come, first-served basis, please register in advance.


Ms Chan (852) 2200 0812,

Accessibility Services:
Live audio description and Sign language interpretation are available upon request with at least 14 days’ advance notice. Please contact: (852) 2200 0812 /

Adverse Weather Arrangement:
If a Tropical Cyclone Signal No. 8 or above or a Black Rainstorm Warning is in force at 11am and onwards, or if an announcement is made by the Hong Kong Observatory that the Tropical Cyclone Signal No. 8 or above is likely to be issued at 11am and onwards, the talk will be cancelled or rescheduled.

Programme Partner:

About the Speaker

Prof. Chan Sau-yan

Prof. Chan Sau-yan read music and philosophy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong before embarking on doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh under the supervision of Professors Bell Yung and Deane Root. He taught at the Music Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong from 1987 to 2007, where he founded the Cantonese Opera Research Programme and Chinese Opera Information Centre, and served as Associate Director of University General Education. He recently returned to Hong Kong after a seven-year stay in Wales, where he learned Welsh folk dance and creative writing. He is the author and editor of twenty academic books on the musical structure, performance practice, ethnographic and historical aspects of Cantonese opera, including Improvisation in a Ritual Context: The Music of Cantonese Opera (Chinese University Press, 1991). At present he is a writer-cum-researcher.

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