Sedan chair race seeks heritage recognition

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am

The organiser of Hong Kong's annual charity sedan chair race wants the event classified as an intangible cultural heritage, saying the race exemplifies the east-meets-west culture of the city.

Since there is no official intangible cultural heritage classification, the organiser has appealed to the Tourism Board to promote the race, but has received only a lukewarm response.

The Sedan Chair Race Charities Fund's executive director, Eleanor Sackett, said it would be good if the event were accepted as intangible heritage.

'The race is a real merging of the two cultures,' she said. 'Sedan chairs used to be the only means of transport to and from The Peak 100 years ago. But the charity event itself is a very westernised activity.

'Now that rickshaws are gone and the Star Ferry pier has turned into a Mickey Mouse-type of backdrop, Hong Kong needs something through which people can recall their past.'

The first sedan chair race was 33 years ago when a nurse had the idea to raise funds for Matilda Hospital on The Peak. Now proceeds go to various charities.

Ms Sackett said one of the fund's award presenters who was 70 could recall when sedan chairs were the only transport option to and from The Peak.

'She told me that as a young child she would beg her parents for some pocket money to enjoy a sedan-chair ride,' she said.

Over the years the event, which attracted predominantly expatriate competitors, has attracted more locals.

'Companies formed teams to participate, which brought in a lot of Chinese employees since the handover in 1997,' Ms Sackett said.

'Another reason is also that there is a better sense of social responsibility among the locals.'

She said the fund asked the Tourism Board in 1999 to list the race on its event calendar, but was turned down. 'They told us that they could not do it because - unlike the dragon boat races - we do not invite teams from overseas,' Ms Sackett said.

But the Trade Development Council did invite Ms Sackett to promote the event in Japan. 'It shows that it is a fun event for tourists and a means to promote Hong Kong as an east-meets-west city,' she said.

A Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman said the government had completed a pilot study on the city's intangible cultural heritage and a territory-wide assessment would be done next year. She said suggestions could be sent to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

The race will be run next Sunday.