Museum has never tried to sell political line

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 March, 1998, 12:00am

I refer to the article by Victoria Finlay, headlined, 'A poor reflection of history', which appeared in the South China Morning Post, on March 13.

Ms Finlay did not attempt to understand the aim of the Hong Kong Museum of History, or the views of experts in the field.

The Hong Kong Museum of History has always been a museum of the everyday life of Hong Kong.

It is not, and has never been, a political museum. It has never tried to sell any political line, nor to lavish attention on the changing political scene in Hong Kong, nor does it believe that the proper sphere of a museum is to take part in current political debates.

It aims to show what life was like for ordinary people here in the past. As such, it is a thoroughly modern museum.

The idea that a museum is there to celebrate the political views and whims of the political elite, or to ram down visitors' throats a 'politically correct' line, is old-fashioned and should have no part to play in any modern museum.

What possible grounds can there be for believing, with Ms Finlay, that the bulk of the museum should be dedicated to repeating at length those political statements on Hong Kong's human rights, corruption, anti-corruption, new town development, elections and so on that can be found in any recent volume of the Government Annual Report? Hong Kong has a long and interesting history. A museum, by definition, is somewhere which preserves and celebrates the past. It is not there to become involved in, or to tell one side of the story of, the current political debates which fill so much of our newspapers and TV. The Hong Kong of today can and should be studied through current newspapers and journals.

From Ms Finlay's article it is clear that Jean Jacques Andre has, once again, produced a superb exhibit design, quite up to his reputation as the world's finest museum designer. Visitors will, clearly, be able to understand and picture vividly how people here lived and worked in the past.

It is entirely right and proper that the museum should cover the past more than the present, and should have exhibits which end in 1997.

Does Ms Finlay really think that the museum will never change its exhibits and that in 100 years, it will show the same things in the same way as today? Of course this will not happen. With every generation things will change.

In 25 or 30 years there will be material on display in the museum reflecting today's lifestyles, but let us not fall into the trap of thinking that we know now what will be of interest then. The new museum will not be 'cautious and shallow', but a vibrant and vivid re-creation of the lifestyles of Hong Kong's past. This is history as historians know it.

Dr PATRICK H. HASE New Territories