Living heritage of Hong Kong

Pledging to safeguard Hong Kong's heritage won't save traditions from dying out, critics fear

Experts say identifying items of intangible cultural heritage will not, alone, save them

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 2:50am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 2014, 1:08pm

Hong Kong has identified 480 items of intangible cultural heritage and pledged to safeguard them. But no one has thought about how to keep them alive.

This, critics say, is a result of the government's reluctance to develop a cultural policy that integrates intangible cultural heritage - including forms of kung fu and techniques for making delicacies like milk tea - into the cultivation of Hong Kong's cultural identity.

This is fundamental for arts and cultural development, heritage conservation and subsequent cultural and creative industries as well as cultural tourism, they say.

"The government only handles culture from a laissez-faire approach. There isn't a holistic vision or a master plan for cultural development," cultural critic and consultant Desmond Hui said. "Intangible cultural heritage carries intrinsic value that is important to a society's identity and knowledge," he said, adding that resources were allocated on a piecemeal basis.

In policy recommendations drafted in 2003 by the defunct Cultural and Heritage Commission, heritage - tangible and intangible - was identified as an important element in making Hong Kong an international cultural metropolis. The report said Hongkongers had to understand their own culture and history before introducing them to others.

IN FULL: Click here to see the entire Hong Kong cultural heritage list

But the report was not fully adopted by the government.

And undersecretary for home affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai said on Tuesday that the government had no concrete plans for safeguarding the 480 items of intangible heritage it had identified.

The Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was drafted in 2003 but Hong Kong did not begin to react until 2007.

Dr Liu Tik-sang, director of the University of Science and Technology's South China Research Centre, which worked on the inventory list for three years, said Hong Kong was late to recognise the importance of intangible cultural heritage. The next step should be to identify items that might be lost.

Liu said "safeguarding" did not necessarily involve money. "What is most important is to keep these items alive as part of our lives," he said. "Archiving it and putting it in a museum is meaningless. It's not about staging a show for tourists either."

At the policy level, the government should work with the community. "Can the government provide a public space for people to learn kung fu at flexible times and not turn off the lights at night?" Liu asked.

The West Kowloon Cultural District should play a role in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, board member Danny Yung Ning-tsun said.

The arts hub's Xiqu Centre, for example, shouldn't be just an ordinary venue for Chinese opera and music performances.

"It should be developed into a think tank [for Chinese opera] with a vision," he said.

IN FULL: Click here to see the entire Hong Kong cultural heritage list