Festivals set to gain national status

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 July, 2010, 12:00am

Beijing is likely to name four local traditional festivals part of the nation's intangible cultural heritage - the first time Hong Kong has applied by itself to the Ministry of Culture for such recognition.

The city nominated the Chiu Chow Yu Lan Ghost Festival, as well as three more - the Cheung Chau Jiao Festival, more popularly known as the Bun Festival, the dragon boat water parade of Tai O, and the Tai Hang fire dragon dance - that were proposed together with festivals in other provinces that carry the same spirit or purpose.

National intangible heritage status will not carry direct tangible benefits for the festivals but it will make the government responsible for preserving them. It will also buoy the hopes of residents struggling to keep the traditions alive amid threats from urban development and waning interest among younger generations.

The four festivals were among 349 cultural items shortlisted from more than 3,000 in May for the national status. The State Council was due to confirm the list after a 30-day notice period. Hong Kong government officials say they expect the announcement will be soon and all four traditions to be protected.

If the festivals win the recognition, more resources will be made available to promote the events, another person familiar with the issue said. For the ghost festival, which is celebrated at about 60 places across Hong Kong, the government will identify a few major sites, with the most comprehensive packages - a live opera show, the setting up of a sacrificial altar, free rice distribution, and rituals to invite and see off deities - as preservation targets. The Federation of Hong Kong Chiu Chow Community Organisations, whose honorary president is Li Ka-shing, has strongly backed the ghost festival's application.

Liu Tik-sang, director of the South China Research Centre of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who helped the government with the applications, said officials could help to set up archives for the heritage 'but ultimately the initiative to preserve it should rest with the community'.