Don't let Hong Kong's young lose sight of their past

Amy Wu says more students should be made aware of Hong Kong's built heritage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 7:35am

I recently took my students to the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre for a class trip. The centre - a US-based non-profit educational organisation that aims to share Asian culture and knowledge with the world - is tucked behind a crescent of five-star international hotels and the upscale Pacific Place shopping mall. Even so, I'll wager that most Hongkongers don't know about this unique centre.

My students certainly didn't. After a tour, they were captivated by the design and the thought that went into preserving the site. Indeed, the centre is an encouraging example of Hong Kong's growing preservation movement. It is housed within the colonial British army's explosives magazine, and the extensive renovation has preserved everything from the original beams to the rail tracks used to transport the explosives. The ceiling of its theatre is a hybrid of the original that is held up with modern bamboo.

Many young people in Hong Kong don't have a sense of their past, perhaps due in part to the rapid technological changes. Under the mountain of Facebook and weibo updates, history can easily be overlooked or, even worse in the case of some mainland cities, swiftly demolished.

It doesn't have to be this way. The Hong Kong government should continue down its preservation path, and find ways to use existing history in a modern way. In this way, the public can learn more about Hong Kong's history while enjoying the comforts of modern-day shopping, dining and photo-taking. Successful examples of where this has worked include the 1881 Heritage mall and hotel that used to be the marine police headquarters, and the lesser known Tai O Heritage Hotel in Lantau, formerly a police station.

The Education Bureau should consider making Hong Kong's past and present an essential part of the primary and secondary school curriculum by weaving in mandatory trips to our museums and examples of preservation including the Asia Society, St John's Cathedral and the former Supreme Court building, which housed the Legislative Council.

In the end, preserving the past helps keep alive personal history, which can be passed down from generation to generation. The government and non-governmental organisations play an essential role in this and can certainly work together, but so can each of us. One friend makes a point to take his young children to Hong Kong's historical sites and museums at weekends.

As for myself, the Asia Society visit has inspired me to create a list of "old Hong Kong" places to visit. I've started with Queen's Pier, which makes a brilliant Instagram photo at sunset. After all, it's best to visit these sites now; there's no guarantee they will be there forever.

Amy Wu is an American-born Chinese writer and commentator now living in Hong Kong