Cultural heritage worth fighting for
Heritage and tourism go hand in hand. We have 150 years of colonial history and a culture of Western and Chinese influences. With good conservation and promotion, our fine traditions and practices can be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. But sadly, incoherent policies and a piecemeal approach mean that, while some of our intangible cultural heritage continues to thrive, much is left on its own and is at risk of dying out soon.
The bun festival and rickshaw pullers are good examples. Both form an integral part of the city's heritage. The Cheung Chau island spectacle we enjoyed last week has become popular among locals and tourists. But a story in this newspaper told how a 63-year-old rickshaw puller, the last active licensee, is struggling to keep this once-thriving mode of transport from the early colonial days alive. The Tourism Board apparently stopped promoting it as an attraction after the government stopped issuing licences in the 1970s. But, confusingly, the Transport Department said licence applications would still be accepted, at a cost of HK$50 per year. These iconic pull carts are testimony to our history. Entrusting their fate to officials in charge of our modern transport system does not seem to do justice to their heritage value.
Thankfully, an awakening awareness has increased the momentum for conservation. The festival on Cheung Chau is one of four that benefit from Jockey Club funding. The government has commissioned experts to draw up a list of customs and traditions worthy of protection. But effective conservation goes beyond research and ad hoc funding. A comprehensive strategy and a holistic approach are needed. The proposal by chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying to establish a culture bureau is refreshing. Intangible heritage, once lost, will be difficult to revive. Hopefully, with better focus and new thinking, a comprehensive policy can be drawn up to preserve more for the enjoyment of locals and visitors alike in future.