Hong Kong now sees merit of preserving heritage
Days of neglect appear to be behind us, with a multitude of heritage projects getting funding
Unlike in the past, our city has been paying a lot more attention in recent years to preserving and maintaining its heritage.
In her previous post as secretary of the Development Bureau, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor took an active interest in cultural conservation, and championed the preservation of many landmark historic buildings in Hong Kong, personally overseeing the Revitalising Historic Buildings through Partnership Scheme.
Today, famous buildings like the Central Police Station, the Hollywood Road police married quarters, the King Yin Lei mansion, the North Kowloon Magistracy, the Tai O Heritage Hotel, Ho Tung Gardens, the Lui Seng Chun mansion, and the Lai Chi Kok Hospital have become almost household names, and interest in conservation has never been keener.
Among those historic buildings currently open to the public is Phase One of the revitalised Lai Chi Kok Hospital, which has been renamed the Jao Tsung-I Academy in honour of the 96-year- old professor, a legendary and locally bred grandmaster of Chinese art and cultural studies.
The academy features a permanent exhibition of Professor Jao's paintings and calligraphy, including his well-known large lotus-flower paintings, and various forms of Chinese calligraphy. There is also a small heritage museum illustrating the history of the Lai Chi Kok Hospital site.
Speaking of cultural conservation, we should perhaps also pay tribute to the pioneering and sustaining efforts of the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust over the past two decades.
To date, the trust has financially supported no fewer than 150 community projects in cultural and heritage conservation in Hong Kong, with a total expenditure of more than HK$40 million.
These projects include, among many: the archaeological excavation and study of local neolithic artefacts and ceramics from the Song-Yuan period; publication of A Documentary History of Hong Kong and production of a DVD on local prehistoric civilisation; and studies of the local history and heritage of Tai O, Ma On Shan and Yim Tin Tsai.
It has also funded studies of the changes in architectural styles in Hong Kong over the past century; the maintenance and restoration of historic buildings such as the Lam Tsuen Tin Hau Temple and the ancestral hall of the Tang clan in Tai Po; and the preservation and documentation of the Hakka dialects spoken by the indigenous inhabitants of Hong Kong.
A recent project of interest is the reconstruction of three dragon boats and three deity boats to allow the continuation of the traditional dragon-boat parade in Tai O. The fishing community of Tai O has a long-standing tradition of parading deity statues through the fishing village during the Dragon Boat Festival.
The practice is believed to bring good harvests, good luck and good health to everybody and is now included on the national UN Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
The trust funds required to support such projects actually come from the public. These days, with increasing interest and rising expectations for heritage preservation and conservation across our community, it is hoped that the public (and our corporations) continue to lend the trusts their support in the years ahead.
Professor Lee Chack-fan is the director of the University of Hong Kong's school of professional and continuing education