Comitato della Dante Alighieri di Hong Kong
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was a citizen of ancient Florence.Though he had been a pharmacist and statesman (priore), his career was an unfortunate political sacrifice when he was caught in the conflict of the warring Ghibellines and Guelphs of his time. The defeat of Ghibellines in the Battle of Campaldino in 1289 in which Dante participated as front rank Guelph cavalry did not see the end to his troubles, for the victorious Guelphs were themselves divided into white and black factions. Dante's father was a White Guelph, and when the Whites lost power to the Black Guelphs, Dante was fined in 1301 and condemned to exile by the Black Guelph government of Florence. Dante refused to pay the fine and led a fugitive life in Verona, and later Ravenna. Though partial amnesty was granted in 1315 to enable his return on condition of public penance, Dante declined the offer and was sentenced to death should he ever set foot on Florence. Dante never returned to his home city up to his death in 1321 in Ravenna.
Italian heritage prefers to remember Dante as a poet, philosopher, thinker, and the father (creator) of the Italian language. In the renaissance years, Italy was not one unified country but a land of different sovereign principalities, each with independent jurisdiction and local dialects. Latin and Greek (classics) were the only recognized reading and writing media of educated circles; Italian as a national language did not then exist. It was Dante who broke the classics convention and started to write poetry and other literary works in vernacular Italian, thereby resolving and ironing out linguistic conflicts or inconsistencies between dialects and creating a new Italian language on a national platform. Dante's most famous work La Comedia (renamed La Divina Comedia by subsequent scholars after his death) in which he went on a pilgrimage from the initial confusions of Inferno, through Purgatorio to Paradiso where he ends with the vision of God: all'alta fantasia qui manc• possa, provided the cornerstone for building up a new national Italian language on a pedestal of respectability. In France, the Italian language is nicknamed "la langue de Dante".
To commemorate the great linguist and poet the Dante Alighieri Society was founded in Rome in 1889 by GiosuŠ Carducci under Decreto del 18 luglio 1893, No. 347 with the objective to "tutelare e diffondere la lingua e la cultura italiane nel mondo, ravvivando i legami spirituali dei connazionali all'estero con la madre patria e alimentando tra gli stranieri l'amore e il culto per la civilta italiana". The Society has since expanded and grown out of Rome into hundreds of overseas branches in major cities of the world. The Hong Kong branch of the Rome Society (sede Hong Kong, "il Comitato della Dante Alighieri di Hong Kong") was apparently founded in 1954 by a group of Italian nationals in town headed by the then Italian Consul General, though official Hong Kong government confirmation of its registration under the Societies Ordinance (Cap. 151) came much later on 26th March 1963 and the Italian article "il" (meaning "the") was dropped from the name in the registration (possibly due to clerical error).
Since 1972 until 2005 the late Leo Tung-hai Lee, Cavaliere di Gran Croce, GBS, OBE, Chev. Leg. d'Hon, Com. Leopold II, LLD, JP was "il Presidente" of the Italian Cultural Society of Hong Kong. Upholding the Rome tradition, the Society was for many decades and still is a public charity dedicated to the promotion and teaching of Italian language, and regularly hosting Italian art and culture activities. Under the Society's constitution Italian Consuls General and Trade Commissioners from time to time holding office in Hong Kong are ex officio members of the Council in which ultimate authority and management of the Society is vested. The late Leo Lee decided to retire in 2005 and he nominated with unanimous approval of all councillors Thomas Lai, Esq. 黎炎武大律師 as the new "il Presidente"; Lai has led the Society since 2005 to date. Warmly held in high regard by some Italian nationals in town as "maestro" and described by Italian Father GiosuŠ Bonzi as the man who loves Italy more than the Italians, the new President has persistently over the years devoted tremendous time and personal effort in the promotion of Italian art, language and music for the benefit of the general public. Without any financial or manpower support from the Italian government, the Hong Kong Government or any other charity or public institution, the new il Presidente staged a public concert of Italian opera arias at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall on 10th January 2009 featuring three Chinese tenors of international acclaim, namely Zhang Jianyi 張建一, Wei Song 魏松 and Warren Mok 莫華倫. The event took the musical circles by storm and was the talk of the town around that time.
With changing tides in recent years, though no longer the official "sede" of Rome today, the Society remains the only authentic and original public charity of more than half a century's standing set up under Hong Kong law for the promotion of Italian culture. Thomas Lai, Esq., il Presidente and il dottore Antonio Zimone, Segretario Generale are the main driving forces on daily basis in keeping alive the fire of Italianpassion in Hong Kong. Viva Italia, viva Dante Hong Kong.