Jingan Young was born in Hong Kong. She holds a BA (Hons) in English with Film Studies from King’s College London and a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing from Oxford University.
She was the first playwright commissioned and produced in the English language by the Hong Kong Arts Festival for her work FILTH (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong). She was a member of the Royal Court Theatre‘s Young Writers Programme in 2011 and The Hampstead Theatre’s youth company Heat & Light. She is currently a member of the Soho Theatre’s Writers’ Lab.
Here she talks to us about how she became a writer, living a bi-continental life and the dangers of speaking your mind.
1989 Productions – When did you decide to become a playwright?
Jingan Young – I didn’t grow up going to the theatre. Holiday visits to see “plays” were visits to see “musicals”. I didn’t see my first serious production until after I moved to London for university in 2009. I found the environment for drama stifling there so I went out of my comfort zone, or rather, out to the “real world”. I was transfixed by this world where words directed action and vice versa, where what actors pretended could affect and had affected lives. And politics, rhetoric…to be able to argue or to explore topics about our lives through drama. I found it visceral, ephemeral, addictive!
I applied on a whim to the Hampstead Theatre’s (now defunct) Heat & Light and rather extraordinarily was mentored by James Graham. A month later I was admitted onto the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme. The training was invaluable. I was commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, set up my own non-profit, surrounded myself with incredible artists and the rest is history!
1989 – You live between Hong Kong and London. How does this influence your writing? Which city inspires you the most?
JY – Hong Kong is where I was born and brought up until the age of 17. I can’t quite shake it off. I have a love/hate relationship with the city, from its innate, frenzied obsession with money to its lack of respect for the arts. But it has defined who I am today, which is rather ironically an almost culture-less individual who oscillates between East and West. One might say this is a lucrative thing to have for a playwright. But in all honesty I often feel quite lost and that my story is not worth being told.
London is the polar opposite, filled with those who were once lost and who form their own communities. You feel it in every crevice and every person who you see on the street or have a chat with on the night bus. Though this too I have noticed is changing dramatically with foreign investment pricing young people out of the property ladder and not giving support to international students who aren’t millionaires. It is losing its magic I think.
1989 – You have spoken a lot about China and Hong Kong’s relationship through both your plays and journalism. How do you think Hong Kong becoming a part of China will affect freedom of speech and how will this affect the arts?
JY – China has a bad reputation when it comes to human rights. My father was originally from Beijing. His family escaped China during the Cultural Revolution. They were “transferred” to Diamond Hill, the notorious refugee camp in Hong Kong before emigrating to America. The stories from that time are horrific and China has never really answered for them, largely because of censorship and “crackdowns”… largely because they have (supposedly) the super power that will take over the world. So although I am mixed race, I have an ambivalent relationship to China and have always aimed to challenge their politics in my writings. I have a completely different perspective to the way they’ve “semi-democratized”. The two-child policy will not wipe away their severe violation of human rights.
Since China has “opened” up, it has been wooing the West in its attempt to have a monopoly on the world’s resources. Those who visit the country and applaud its development will never know what is really going on because they too are being wooed. It’s one big Truman show.
1989 – Do you ever worry that disagreeing with the Chinese government so openly will have consequences for you personally?
JY – Hong Kong is still very much its own being, despite the press making out as if the people are being enslaved. The occupy protests were a testament to that. But everybody is in fear. They’ve begun building PLA barracks and more direct routes into China via public transport. Because of my work I have been tracked online in Hong Kong, received the occasional threatening email, though nothing too violent. The threat to our liberty is coming, it’s unstoppable and it’s only a matter of time.
Catch Jingan’s next play I’m Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce at Camden People’s Theatre in January 2016.