Hong Kong's architectural heritage conservation is praised

Mainland officials want to copy city's success in conserving architecture and culture against urbanisation and threat to historic buildings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 7:20am

Hong Kong's way of preserving its old buildings, while not always well-received at home, has become something of the model that the mainland aims to follow in efforts to protect its rich but threatened heritage.

The city's experience with heritage preservation and revitalisation can serve as a useful lesson for the mainland, as preservationists do their job more methodically when working under better legal conditions for protecting heritage, according to mainland officials.

It's sad to see a historic place turned into a hub of rowdy bars and souvenir shops, but it's good that the government now realises they made a mistake
Tony Lam Chung-wai

Speaking yesterday at a Tianjin symposium on the reuse of architectural heritage, Li Xiaojie, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), said the mainland's push for urbanisation threatened the conservation of architectural heritage, and he called for it to be better protected under law.

President Xi Jinping, during a visit on Monday to a village in Ezhou, Hubei, where a trial programme involving rural-urban integration is being carried out, told officials to avoid the mass demolition of homes and instead conserve old villages.

Li said he has gained considerable insight from visiting architectural heritage sites in places such as Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and he specifically pointed out Lui Seng Chun - a grade-one historic building in Mong Kok, Kowloon, that has been turned into a Chinese medicine and health care centre.

"It shows that old buildings should be for all of the public to enjoy, not for the benefit of a select few," he said.

How cities such as Hong Kong have established a fair, objective and useful framework in deciding what is valuable and how to reuse a place is what the mainland is trying to replicate, said two officials, from Fuzhou, Fujian province and Suzhou , in Jiangsu , who did not want to be named.

Li said yesterday that the mainland should not make the same "mistake" as in the old town of Lijiang, in Yunnan, where tourism was unrestricted after the town was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997. Many former residents of the ancient town had to move away due to rising living costs, only to be replaced by more tourism establishments.

Yesterday's symposium was attended by officials and industry experts from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

"It's sad to see a historic place turned into a hub of rowdy bars and souvenir shops, but it's good that the government now realises they made a mistake," said Tony Lam Chung-wai, a member of Hong Kong's Antiquities Advisory Board and a director of AGC Design, the firm behind the renewal of Lui Seng Chun.

Li said urbanisation and improper rural development were the main challenges to protecting cultural heritage. About 44,000 of China's 766,722 registered heritage sites had gone, he said.