4 festivals proposed to be protected as national heritage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 September, 2009, 12:00am

The Hong Kong government will recommend four local traditions to the Ministry of Culture for the status of national intangible cultural heritage.

The Cheung Chau Jiao Festival (more commonly known as the Bun Festival), the dragon boat parade of Tai O, the Tai Hang fire dragon dance and the Chiu Chow ghost festival have been selected from 34 traditions after a three-year study and consultation with a panel of five historians. They are considered to have historical and cultural value and to illustrate the creativity of Chinese culture.

'They have been conserved from generation to generation in Hong Kong for more than 100 years,' Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said yesterday. 'They are well recognised by the general public.'

Detailed studies and records by scholars were available for preparation of application papers, he said.

This is the first time the city has made its own recommendation to the ministry. In 2006, the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau jointly applied successfully for Cantonese opera and herbal teas to be added to the list.

In 2006 and 2008, a total of 1,028 traditions from different parts of China were inscribed on the national list. The result for the third batch is expected to be announced in June next year. The compilation of a cultural heritage list and preservation of the items on it is a requirement under a convention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Among the four local traditions, the Cheung Chau Jiao Festival is still vigorously celebrated and televised every year. It originated from a plague in the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) that caused residents to create a parade with deity statues, followed by villagers scrambling up bamboo towers to snatch buns attached to them to express thanks to the gods for protecting them.

The dragon boat parade of Tai O is in danger of dying as the fishermen who celebrate it are getting old or turning to other businesses. The religious festival is organised by three fishermen associations in the village in the form of dragon boat rides and a 'deities parade' on sampans.

The fire dragon dance of Tai Hang is a Hakka tradition dating back to 1880, also related to a plague. During the three-day festival, villagers parade the fire dragon through the village to ward off the disease and bless themselves.

The ghost festival, known as the Yu Lan festival locally, is celebrated by 1.2 million Chiu Chow people in Hong Kong at 60 different places throughout the seventh lunar month.