Dancing back in time at west wing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2012, 12:00am


Conservationists will go back in time and hold a dance party on Government Hill today as a public hearing takes place over the grading of the west wing.

The event will recall the dances held at the former colonial government headquarters to pacify young people after the violent 1967 riots.

They say it will highlight the historical significance of the west wing, showing why - along with two other wings of the complex - it is worthy of preservation.

The first 'mod pop-in' dance was held by the Urban Council in the canteen of the former headquarters' west wing on February 1, 1969, after an outdoor concert at Blake Pier in Central was cut short a year earlier.

Today's dance is being held in open space outside the Court of Final Appeal as the Antiquities Advisory Board holds a public consultation on the historic grading for the west wing, which is slated for redevelopment.

Government Hill Concern Group member Katty Law Ngar-ning said: 'Information shows that the west wing has been, among the three wings, the most accessible, with parties, a public canteen, a public inquiry counter and lawmakers' offices open to the public. Its social value should not be overlooked.'

A South China Morning Post report in 1969 said the party included an elaborate floor show to add a 'nightclub atmosphere'.

But original headliner Teddy Robin - Hong Kong's first locally-produced pop star, now known as actor-director Kwan Wai-pang - won't be taking part.

He said: 'I believe the party at the west wing was held as compensation after the Blake Pier one was halted abruptly. The crowd at the pier was getting out of control.'

Kwan said he performed the west wing show with his band The Playboys and added: 'It was not that common that we were invited to perform inside a government building.'

He turned down an invitation to take part in today's show.

But he said: 'I agree [the west wing] should be conserved, not because I had a concert there but because it is part of a special architectural cluster with lots of history.'

The west wing staged at least five pop-ins that year, featuring emerging bands and including lucky draws with guitars as prizes.

Historians say the parties were part of officials' attempt to provide an outlet for young people's energy after the leftist-inspired 1967 riots.

Chinese University history professor Ho Pui-yin said the decision to stage the first dance party at the government headquarters was symbolic.

He explained: 'It showed officials were trying to win over young people after the 1967 riots with entertainment opportunities in a bid to mend the relationship with citizens and engage the public to build a harmonious society.'

Ho is a member of the Antiquities Advisory Board and voted last month in favour of giving the west wing a grade 1 historical rating, which would save it from demolition.

Historian and board member Stephanie Chung Po-yin said that according to colonial records the government decided to cultivate a 'local identity' through events like the dance parties and a clean-up festival.

Ho added: 'When you assess the significance of a historic building, you don't just look at what prominent figures have used it, but also how it was associated with the lives of ordinary people.'