Touring Variety explores how international mobility in commercial entertainment shaped the Asia-Pacific region. The story begins with the network of artists touring through the nightclubs of Hong Kong.
Chapter 2 draws on a survey of advertisements in local newspapers to analyse the touring patterns and national origins of international entertainers performing in Hong Kong. In this regard, I take a retrospective approach to digital culture, exploring what becomes visible when we digitise cultural artefacts from the past.
Between 1956 and 1965, there were weekly entertainment listings in Hong Kong newspapers, often printed alongside display advertisements for nightclubs, some with a line-drawing or photograph, that can provide a sense of the act.
From the listings and advertisements I transcribed nightclub acts into a database – with records combining information on venue, date, companies and artists. In itself, each piece of information doesn’t amount to much. It’s in the aggregation and analysis that patterns begin to emerge. I also gathered information on national origin, where available, for each artist or act.
Hong Kong nightclubs, 1956–1965
Between 1956 and 1965, 61 venues in Hong Kong were advertising international entertainments in local newspapers; 50 of these venues are designated as nightclubs or restaurants offering floorshow entertainments; the others are theatres, cinemas, and halls presenting touring artists from the circuit.
Over the period I was following the careers of some 1,402 acts—786 individual artists and 616 troupes of two or more artists performing under a company name. Counting the appearance of each company or artist appearing at a venue each month results in a collection of 4,881 performances—over 40 performances each month, averaged over the ten years.
Here are some ways to explore the data – as a map, on a chart, in a table.
This interactive map shows the location of nightclubs in Hong Kong, distributed – like the city itself – between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula. Nightclubs clustered in four areas: (1) in the Central district of Hong Kong Island stretching between Sheung Wan and Wan Chai; (2) further east on Hong Kong Island around North Point; (3) in the Tsim Sha Tsui district at the southern end of the Kowloon peninsula; and (4) further north in Kowloon along Nathan Road between Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok.
The venues on the map are sized by the number of artists who performed. Click for a popup that shows the years of events at each venue and provides a link to the list of artists appearing there. The venues and artists can also be explored from the table.
The data set records over 7,890 events, counted as an artist or company appearing on a given date at a venue in Hong Kong; however, counting appearances by month controls for variations in the number of times an act’s appearance at a venue was advertised in any given month. That is, in making this chart, I didn’t count how many appearances each artist or company was making within a month or how many advertisements they appeared in. I just counted the fact that they were appearing – or not.
The chart gives some shape to the pattern of entertainment in the nightclubs of Hong Kong. Here are three things that I noticed.
- Firstly, the overall trend upwards, indicates an increase over the years in the number of artists appearing at nightclubs in Hong Kong – which corresponds, roughly, with the trajectory of Hong Kong’s economic recovery and post-war development.
- Secondly, the alternating pattern of busier months and quieter months. This isn’t a seasonal pattern; if anything, it looks like short-term market oscillation driven by a feedback delay in the link between supply and demand. One month, the word goes out: they’re short on entertainers in Hong Kong; the next month, as entertainers fly-in there’s an over-supply; which leads to departures, the following month, and so on.
- Thirdly, the data for the years 1964 and 1965 appear to show a decrease in the numbers of artists that corresponds with a shift in Hong Kong nightclubs catering to the influx of servicemen on R&R from the Vietnam War; I think the shift is to smaller venues and un-named acts, although there’s more research to do on that.
I conducted a weekly survey of the China Mail (1955–61), the Hong Kong Tiger Standard (1962–69), and the Hong Kong Star (1965–66), and I searched headlines in Ta Kung Pao (大公報), Hong Kong Kung Sheung Daily News (香港工商日報), Kung Sheung Evening News (工商晚報), Wah Kiu Yat Po (華僑日報), and the South China Morning Post (1955–65), using the collections at Hong Kong Central Library and the University of Hong Kong.
Nightclub listings begin with an entertainment guide in the China Mail from August 1958. Display advertising for night clubs in the China Mail is sporadic up to that point, becoming more regular through 1959 and into 1960. Display advertising for nightclubs in the Tiger Standard is regular throughout the 1960s. Peter Olaes pens a short-lived weekly column, ‘Where to Go and What to See’, for the Tiger Standard from March to April 1962. Alex Serres’ column, ‘Last Night’, in the Star, which profiles individual night club acts, is a particularly valuable source for 1965 and 1966.
Hong Kong in those years was a hub of international touring. In the next post, I’ll explore how the network of contact and co-appearance between touring artists converging in Hong Kong mapped a ‘world’ of international entertainment.