Intangible Cultural Heritage in China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 January, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong Heritage Museum

Until Feb 16

Must museum exhibits always be material objects?

At this exhibition, jointly curated by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the Chinese Ministry of Culture's Centre for Ethnic and Folk Literature and Art Development, some of the works on display are intangible such as musical performances and demonstrations of skills.

Curator Chau Hing-wah says Intangible Cultural Heritage in China is more about people than objects, and keeping practices and culture passed down through the generations alive. The exhibition is all about 'going back to the roots of Chinese culture, its intangible heritage,' he says.

Chau says using conventional museum displays would have been difficult, so instead the show uses multimedia demonstrations and live performance. Performers include dough sculptor Tang Suguo, painter Wang Haili and members of the Tangshan Shadow Play troupe. Flown in from various parts of the mainland to give rare in-museum demonstrations of their crafts, they all are recognised masters of the traditional folk arts that they practise and help keep alive.

'We want Hong Kong people to have a broader view as to what constitutes intangible cultural heritage all over China,' Chau says. 'We chose not to put so much of Hong Kong in the exhibition ... [but] you can find examples of intangible cultural heritage in an urban setting'.

Urbanisation does not destroy cultural heritage, he says. 'What endangers intangible cultural heritage is modernisation, globalisation - when you have to change your lifestyle and your culture.'

Although some types of intangible cultural heritage in the exhibition have largely died out, Chau says 'the majority are still living'.

The programme includes videos and sound recordings of Uygur muqam from Xinjiang. 'You can press a button and hear an example of the music,' the curator says.

It's one of four examples of Chinese cultural heritage - along with kunqu opera, guqin music and the Mongolian long song - that Unesco has declared 'masterpieces of oral and intangible cultural heritage'.

The exhibition also includes more than 100 items and artefacts, 326 pictures and a Peking opera set (above).

1 Man Lam Rd, Sha Tin, HK$10, free Wed. Inquiries: 2180 8188