Remembering Anita Mui

December 08, 2021 09:29
Photo: M+

It’s usually rather hard to put pen to paper on a stranger.

It’s even harder to articulate clearly one’s thoughts on a stranger who had passed before one has come of age. Candle in the wind – Elton John. ‘Nuff said.

Yet uncannily enough, I do not find the following a challenging task: to express in words what Anita Mui meant – or means. I suppose much of this stems from the fact that Anita’s legacy extends far beyond an interpersonal relationship; it doesn’t take a personal encounter for anyone to realise how important she was, she is to Hong Kong.

Anita was born in the tail-end of the 1960s – at the precipice of Hong Kong’s incredible transformations and growth over the ensuing three decades. Her childhood was spent in the parade grounds frequented by many – ranging from those from the humblest origins, to those who flourished and thrived in the upper echelons of the Chinese civil society, then. A mixture of fate and familial reasons had seen her venture into the performance arts at an incredibly young age – which indubitably contributed towards her precocious, assertive, simultaneously androgynous and feminine charisma in her subsequent years. Suffice to say, there’s very little nominally in common between her and my childhoods – or, indeed, the childhoods of those growing up the 90s and 00s (my generation) at large. Yet her defiance and resolve resonate with many of our generation, for the fact that her commitment to ideals of independence, autonomy, and grit was – as with many other elements of her life – ahead of her times. These were values that intersected aptly with the third-generational feminism that took the world by storm in the 1990s, but also the values to which we have always attributed Hong Kong’s economic miracle.

She had been in constant pursuit of the ideal “family”. Throughout her career, she had yearned – and openly sought – solace through romantic relationships; unfortunately, few turned out to be fruitful, none, indeed, saw her through to betrothment. Yet in lieu of typecasting her as someone who was “lovesick” or “infatuated”, I suggest a better reading would be one that acknowledged her larger-than-life exuberance – a sense of passion that saw her betrothed to the stage, in the concert dubbed by many as her swansong, her farewell. It wasn’t so much love that Anita had craved, but the warmth of a wholesome, complete family, matched by a genuine sense of passionate fulfillment – that, I’d posit, was something that the world owed her. Or so she thought. A wholesome family that she never had – save from the sister whom she loved dearly.

It would do her little to no injustice to brush aside Anita’s impressive track record as an activist, philanthropist, political advocate, and intellectual figure – one who told it as it was, and who spoke truth to power. She was, for all intents and purposes – including per her self-identification – quintessentially Chinese; her ethnic identity and kinship with the billion-strong country to which Hong Kong belongs, rendered her a towering figure when it came to organising and supporting relief efforts for disasters that had occurred in mainland. Yet she was also unabashedly progressive and liberal, in her devotion to civil and political freedoms. She stuck to her guts, and let her convictions guide her, perhaps impulsively, but never disingenuously.

SARS was a tough time to be a Hong Konger. Yet it also arguably brought out the best in Hong Kong – our collective solidarity, our pride, our devotion to doing our job, not only well, but also to serve our community. Anita typified that – despite her cancer and ailing health, she persisted in championing one of the most impressive and well-attended concerts in Hong Kong’s history. Held at the Stadium, the 1:99 Charity Concert raised millions for victims of SARS; more importantly, it showed the world what we’ve got.

Much of the above – thus far – has omitted, perhaps uncharitably, and perhaps unduly, Anita’s incredible presence and musical talents. Yet such omission was for two reasons: first, I am in no position to comment on how powerful, empathic, and avant-garde her music was – for no volume of words or explication could do her talents justice; second, Anita was (is) not just a musical icon – she is a character to whom we can and should all look up. And perhaps, whilst gazing at the starry, starry nights, we’d see a shimmering star in the distance… and perhaps, that’s who Anita truly is.

I would thoroughly recommend – if you haven’t already – that you check out Anita: a terrific effort that imbues heart and soul with exceptional choreography, a robust lead performance, and solid acting throughout. A daughter of Hong Kong – gone too soon, but never forgotten.

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Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Political Review