‘In Defense of History’: Broadcasting on Hong Kong’s Popular Radio Show, Summit

The following piece is by St Andrews PhD student Percy Leung, who was recently able to promote the study of history on a popular Hong Kong radio programme. Percy is carrying out research for his thesis ‘Symphonic Beneficence: The Social and Political Contributions of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra during the First World War’ under the supervision of Prof. Frank Müller


DSC_3186 (1).JPG

Chip Tsao and Percy Leung


Hong Kong – once a glorious British colony – has experienced substantial political, social, economic and cultural transformations since her sovereignty was transferred to China on July 1st, 1997. Indeed, these transformations permeated into the academia, where scholarships that are perceived to generate more wealth and prestige, like medicine, law, finance and engineering took precedence over traditional humanities and the arts, especially the historical, literary and musical disciplines. History, as a field of study, is seen by many Hong Kongers as a ‘dead subject’ which not only is of little relevance to modern society, but also forces students to memorise facts and data that could not help with their career advancement.

During the Christmas and New Year holiday, I had the great pleasure of meeting Chip Tsao, a well-known, if controversial broadcaster, commentator, columnist and writer based in Hong Kong. Tsao took an interest in my doctoral research but was perplexed by why a Hong Kong youngster, like me, would embark on a PhD in Modern History, the very academic degree and subject which he believed would not appeal to the prominent multinational companies. Upon hearing my explanations and arguments, Tsao immediately invited me to be the guest on his radio show on Commercial Radio, Summit, the next evening to defend history as a discipline and offer the Hong Kong public an analysis of the value and importance of studying history.

Needless to say, this was a massive challenge for me. Not only was Summit a popular radio show in Hong Kong, I also needed to think about how to deliver my ideas in a way that was both approachable and understandable to the public. And of course, I would have to speak in Cantonese, which is my second language, throughout the show as any English phrases or words would only serve to confuse the mostly Cantonese-speaking audiences.

I started the radio programme discussing my music history doctoral project, which is on the contributions of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra to their countries during the First World War, before turning to how I became mesmerised by history and explaining the roles of music in history. In particular, I talked about the numerous historical occasions where British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s Nimrod (from his Enigma Variations) was performed, like at every Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph, Whitehall and at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Most importantly, I reminded the audiences that this piece was also performed at the Hong Kong Handover Ceremony in 1997, which drew tears from the British delegation, including our last Governor Lord Patten and his daughters. I played a recording of Nimrod, conducted by Elgar himself, during the radio show, hoping that this nostalgic, poignant and affectionate composition would lead Hong Kongers to reminisce their remarkable days under British rule. After the broadcast, I received numerous messages from friends and audiences, expressing how this segment brought them to tears, touched their souls and resonated with their minds and emotions.

After a commercial break, I critiqued some memorable quotes about history, including George Bernard Shaw’s ‘We learn from history that we learn nothing from history’, Sir Winston Churchill’s ‘Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ and Stephen Hawking’s ‘We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity’. And for the final 30 minutes of the programme, I launched into a passionate commentary on the importance of history and why students should study this subject. I analysed how history helped us to understand peoples, societies, values and changes, how history provided an opportunity for moral contemplation, how history gave us an ethnological, panoramic worldview that encourages us to appreciate the diversity of cultures, how history taught us lessons about the past, present and future and how history stimulated us to think, to problem-solve and to communicate.

Would my broadcast make a difference to the mindsets of the people in Hong Kong? Well, history will be my judge.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: