Hong Kong Art Enthusiasts: John J. Ying


August 24, 2012 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

Our columnist Joanne Chan talks to the chairman of the Hong Kong Ballet

John J Ying, is best known as the decisive and fearless Chairman of the Hong Kong Ballet. His character is hidden behind his boyish good looks of a soon-to-be 50-year-old man.

Recognised as the face of ballet in Hong Kong, his first love is American football. Hailing from one of the most established and traditional Hong Kong family, he married an all-American wife. Proud to work a 80-100 hour week, his proudest achievement is his family, and his happiest moments happened at the altar when he married his lovely wife, Lisa. So here we get up close and personal with a personality who can go both extremes.

A little bit about myself: I was born in the Midwest, in Indiana. My grandparents moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong in 1949. In the mid-50s, they immigrated to New York but spent 5 months in Hong Kong a year. I am a very big American football fan, both college and professional. It speaks to me because in my ways the language used in American football can be applied to the boardroom: touchdown, offense, defense, tackling etc.

I love food and wine. Skiing during the winter. Watching sports — American football, golf & tennis — and attending performances — opera, theatre, jazz, rock, classical and of course, ballet.

As the Chairman of the Hong Kong Ballet, I think the Hong Kong arts scene is slowly becoming more professional and international but has been hitting a wall. The people of Hong Kong still prefer to support, both financially and with attendance, imported arts, not locally produced. Many in this city still have an attitude that almost anything imported — even from second or third tier companies — is superior to anything locally produced. Until this attitude changes, it will be very difficult for the local arts scene to grow the ecosystem necessary to support organizations that can mature to the next level of international recognition and achievement.

It is interesting to note that Hong Kong is one of the few places where the government spends more money importing programs than they spend on local companies and organizations. There is a small core of enthusiastic supporters for many local arts organizations. The general populace, however, neither supports the arts nor particularly cares.

The next major step for Hong Kong as a society is for the general public to recognize that everyone — young and old, rich and poor, educated or not — can enjoy the arts, have fun, be intellectually engaged and be touched in the heart; specialised knowledge and expertise are not necessary. There is a sense that the arts really only concern a specialised few, whereas for programs such as pop music, TV, movies, shopping, food & wine, these are things in which the masses can participate and have fun. Of course, no one is going to enjoy all the different types of the arts; everyone can enjoy some types of the arts. The trick is to help everyone figure out what they enjoy individually.

In order for the arts scene in Hong Kong to take off, I think education and outreach are helpful, but not enough. I think all opinion leaders in the city need to be engaged in this process. For example, high profile government receptions feature food, wine and speakers … but rarely performances, and when they do, only mainstream classical or pop music. It is interesting to note that Hong Kong Ballet’s Guest Principal, Tan Yuan Yuan (pictured below, photo courtesy of Keith Hiro), has performed in the White House for President Bill Clinton and Party Secretary Jiang Zemin. To my knowledge, neither she or any dancer ever has been invited to Government House to do something similar.

I read at least 5 newspapers daily: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, South China Morning Post and whatever major daily of the city I happen to be located.

On success: To succeed as a business executive or as an artist, you need to put in your all. If you want a job, you put in 40 hours a week. If you want a career, you put in 60. If you do it as a passion, you put in 80 to 100 hours. Money is a by-product out of a profession.

Interview was conducted at Brasserie de l'ile, G/F, 4 Arbuthnot Road, Central