Shock over plans to make 14-year-old nunnery a Unesco world heritage site

Advisers question why a nunnery built just 14 years ago has been included on a shortlist of potential Unesco world heritage sites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 3:27am

Heritage advisers fired questions at officials yesterday for supporting a plan to turn a "fake antiquity" - a 14-year-old nunnery in Kowloon - into a Unesco world heritage site.

Members of the Antiquities Advisory Board expressed shock at yesterday's meeting that they had been bypassed by those seeking to promote the heritage value of the Chi Lin Nunnery, in Diamond Hill.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage last month included Chi Lin - at the nunnery's request - on an updated shortlist of potential heritage sites. Beijing chooses sites from the list and proposes them to Unesco.

The board was equally dissatisfied to learn that Hong Kong officials - without consulting the board - had endorsed the application and assisted their mainland counterparts' visit to evaluate the nunnery in June.

Historian and board adviser Ko Tim-keung said yesterday that he had been surprised to read about the national heritage list in a newspaper. "I could never imagine that this 14-year-old building, a fake antiquity, could represent Hong Kong. There are other sites in the city that deserve the status a lot more."

The Buddhist nunnery was completely rebuilt in 1998, in a Tang dynasty architectural style.

Grace Lui Kit-yuk, deputy secretary for development, said it "would not be a bad thing" if the nunnery won a place on the UN agency's heritage list.

"Icomos China has accepted the submission," she said, referring to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which helps Beijing vet applications from provinces and compiles the list of proposed sites. "This shows that we didn't make a rash or wrong decision in supporting them."

Board member Tracy Lu Lie-dan said the choice of the nunnery might have wasted Hong Kong's "quota" of sites. Beijing allows each province or region to recommend one, or only a few, sites for the national list.

Lu said she doubted the nunnery would qualify for Unesco's list. "A world heritage site must be the best monument from a place, which deserves the government's utmost effort to preserve for future generations. Just whose heritage is this?"

Chi Lin Nunnery - with the adjacent Nan Lian Garden - is one of 45 sites on the state list.

Board chairman Bernard Chan said the government should consult the board in future about any international-level heritage issues. The nunnery did not respond to the Post's inquiries.

Meanwhile, the board agreed on a government plan to declare the Cenotaph in Central's Statue Square an official monument.

However, Ko said that the Cenotaph had little to do with Hong Kong history. It was unveiled in 1923 to commemorate the British who left Hong Kong to fight in the first world war, in which the city played no part, he said.