The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Sketch for Serious Postgraduates

As my PhD project involves a study of Hong Kong New Wave cinema, I longed for a trip to Hong Kong where I oculd have access to many established scholars and rich material. During November and December 2018, I was invited, thanks to Professor Dina Iordanova’s introduction, to pay an academic visit to the Department of Comparative Studies, University of Hong Kong. Amongst the earnest scholars that specialise in film studies there, Professor Gina Marchetti and Mr. Miguel Lizada warmly received me and helped me with my affiliation and integration within the academic community. My profound gratitude to their kindness notwithstanding, I would like to present here some events which I participated in during my visit there and have since been very grateful for.

Pursuing “a strong Liberal Arts education”, the Department of Comparative Studies has been highly active in organising talks, workshops, and seminars. Film and visual culture, gender and sexuality, Hong Kong and Asia, postcolonial and global culture, et cetera are frequently engaged with during such events. Exchanges of different views are encouraged to the extent that students and scholars across disciplines all endeavour to look beyond the purview of their specific research enquiries and aim at a profound understanding of diversity. At one of their seminars on Hong Kong cinema for example, the lecturer used a smart platform where all students can project on screen their impression of independent filmmakers and communicate with each other efficiently. Attending many such events has allowed me to learn many things that seem irrelevant to my research subjects and that nonetheless sustain no less serious for my prospective academic career.

My talk on nostalgia in Chen Kaige’s King of the Children (1987)


Publication ranks top on the “Great Chain of Being an Earnest Scholar” according to many of my postgraduate colleagues. Whereas how to publish becomes a popular question, other facets of publication, as to where to publish and in what form for example, have been rendered a trivial matter to consider. Featuring an informal dialogue on “publish or perish” in the digital age, the “Workshop on Publishing in Arts and Humanities” (16 November 2018) addressed anew the diversity of publication, explored the possibility of publishing on many unconventional platforms such as blogs, online news-letters, video essays, et cetera, and allowed me to realise the importance of the alternative routes.

Presentation is another important skill for academics. I gave a talk that is entitled “Nostalgia and New Chinese Cinema in the 1980s” (6 November 2018, HKU) and benefited from as much the questions that portends to my research enquiries as the informal dialogues that addressed the strategies of presentation. I was very glad that my audience spoke of the “Elevator Pitch” – a sales pitch that aims at succinct, persuasive, and impressive description of one’s work or oneself – which has since compelled me to pay as much attention to the content of my presentation and its forms and rhetorics.

Still, Professor Iordanova’s workshop, “Being There: The Importance of Networking” (4 December, 2018, HKU), unveiled to me the diverse aspects of an academic career which extends far beyond publication and presentation. Networking through field-specific conferences and tête-a-tête conversations is apparently trivial and essentially earnest. Many of my postgraduate colleagues and I may sometimes, as the protagonists in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, strategically find excuses to escape the “trivial” social obligations. It might be due to such an avoidance of the triviality and alleged focus on the “serious” research that we lose the delight of being a researcher in the academia. The Victorian soaring importance of earnestness notwithstanding, Wilde told Robert Ross that the play’s theme was “that we should treat all trivial things in life very seriously, and all serious things of life with a sincere and studied triviality”[i]. Hence the importance of being earnest, establishing academic networks, and visiting other institutes such as the University of Hong Kong.


[i] Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 398