Cultural festivals must be preserved

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am


The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance has been an obscurity in Hong Kong, a once-yearly Hakka festival little known outside its community despite 130 years of history. But its listing, along with three other local festivals, as a national intangible cultural heritage has changed that. A dwindling number of participants, meaning fewer fit people to carry the heavy dragon and ever-smaller donations to construct it, has meant that in recent years, the festival has been struggling to survive. With its new status, though, authorities are committed to ensuring its preservation.

At least 100 people are needed to carry the 67-metre dragon, which made its way through the district to Victoria Park for three nights this week to purge the area of bad spirits. It was an eye-catching mid-autumn festival sight, but was unlikely to have occurred had the Jockey Club and Wan Chai District Council not stepped in. The cost of materials has risen 20 per cent, pushing up the tag for staging the parades to HK$380,000. Traditionally, the event relied on Hakka residents' donations, but with many having moved from Tai Hang, organisers had to rely on funding from elsewhere.

Since the impassioned protests over the Star Ferry piers and Queen's Pier in 2007, the government has come to realise the importance of cultural heritage. Last year, it applied to the Ministry of Culture for national recognition of the dance, the Tai O dragon boat water parade, the Yu Lan Ghost festival and the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. They were recognised in June and Unesco will consider in November whether they should be inscribed on its list. All but the bun festival suffer a lack of support, so recognition is a means of keeping them alive. Festivals, whether they are a tourist draw or not, are important for Hong Kong. They strengthen community identity, drawing people together to share skills and knowledge and foster understanding and appreciation. Authorities have to make every effort now to ensure that those that have been recognised are preserved.