• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 6:13pm

Living heritage of Hong Kong

After seven years of research and compiling, the Hong Kong government in June 2014 released a list of 480 items of "intangible cultural heritage" that best represent Hong Kong's rich local culture and historical legacy. The list covers a wide range of techniques, cultural practices, local dialets and music that make Hong Kong unique.

NewsHong Kong

Britain's legacy 'missing' on list of 480 things that represent Hong Kong's culture

Afternoon tea and Easter holidays, which reflect rich colonial history, make Hong Kong unique among Chinese cities, say academics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 July, 2014, 7:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 1:06pm

From moon cakes to fishermen's ballads, the recently issued list of Hong Kong intangible cultural heritage covers myriad facets of culture and history. But one is absent: the East-meets-West legacy that makes it unique among Chinese cities.

The inventory's aim is to list the items that best represent the Hong Kong community and provide cultural continuity. But despite the city's rich colonial history, it does not include any overtly Western items.

"The list does not really reflect Hong Kong's bicultural heritage," University of Hong Kong history professor John Carroll said. "I don't know how [a lot of the items] really represent Hong Kong rather than Chinese culture in general."

The inventory does, however, include many non-local items such as Bangladesh's International Mother's Day and Teej, the Nepalese festival of women. Compiled over seven years, the list features 480 items ranging from oral traditions to social practices and craftsmanship.

IN FULL: The Hong Kong cultural heritage list

The project began in 2006 after the government commissioned researchers from the University of Science and Technology to create the inventory following passage of a UN convention on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage.

Associate professor of humanities Liu Tik-sang, who led the team, said the researchers focused on finding items that provided a sense of community and did not intentionally exclude Western items.

"Eastern and Western is a very simple and not a very helpful definition," Liu told the Sunday Morning Post. "The major concern was [whether] the items are important to maintaining the people's community and that they are proud of them."

If a British community feels that certain cultural practices should be added to the list, they are welcome to contact the Heritage Museum, he added.

Liu cited Hong Kong-style milk tea and Feast Day - an annual Catholic ritual in Yim Tin Tsai, Sai Kung - as two Western items on the list. Yet in the inventory description for milk tea, there is no reference to the item's Western roots.

"When we talk about an item, we consider its relationship with the community," he said.

According to Carroll, Britain's cultural legacy in Hong Kong is not as entrenched as in other former colonies such as India but the city's colonial history has still left many marks. Some items that could have been on the list include Western holidays, high tea and horse racing, he said.

A record two million people attended races held by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in the 2012-13 season.

"There are celebrations such as Diwali [on the list] but not Christmas or Easter, which are certainly observed," he said. "The fact that Hong Kong was a British colony is why we still have Christmas and Easter as holidays."

Afternoon tea - also brought over by the British - has now become an integral part of Hong Kong culture.

Ritz Carlton executive chef Peter Find described Hong Kong's afternoon tea culture as well established and said he would like to see it on the list.

"I think it's a cultural aspect and it's been so for many, many years," Find said.

The government will update the list regularly as part of the UN convention's requirements.


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This article is now closed to comments

After the handover, the new Chinese Governor, short of renaming Hennessey Road something like Yan'an Lu, did as much as he possibly could to remove as many signs of the colonial era as he could order pried or dug up. Cemetery head stones may even have been shipped back to London. (Have chip, will ship)
Tung Chee Hwa even withdrew visas from foreign waitstaff and halved the English speaking schools.
This list snub can't erase the fact that modernity was forced on a Chinese empire that had enfeebled itself by walling off the rest of the world.
The British found both HK and SH as little more than fishing villages. Although racially prejudiced -- Han were, too -- they provided the foundation on which the Chinese population have built its two most modern cities. They handed back far more than they took.
The incomplete cultural heritage list reflects this immature, resentful view of the last couple of centuries of Chinese history.
There is irony, here, because the cadres have as tough a time tolerating Western ideas on how things ought to be run as did the Ming and Ching, even though ideas no longer arrive alongside colonial gunboats and missionaries.
Rather than prohibit traders from putting to sea in boats of two masts or more as did the Ming, the CCP builds a Great Fire Wall and harmonizes non-conforming ideas.
That defensive attitude is what brought on a 400 year snooze that allowed the foreign concessions in the first place. Sad.
There is nothing more uniquely Hong Kong and East-West than the Tram...
And we should not forget the Guangzhou citizens who distributed the Opium. Without them there would be no trade as the foreign merchants were confined to port.
No Brits, no HK as we know it. CCP (and all the puny wu mao clan here) hates to admit that glaring fact.
"Asia's World City"!!
Sorry, but I've never heard of Bangladeshi's Mother's Day or Teej. What is its basis for inclusion when items such as horse racing and high tea have been left out? Duh?
There's another, surely?
They should have also listed Hong Kong's protest culture and tradition of revolution. There would be no ROC or PRC if not for revolutions aided and abetted from Hong Kong. Even Taipings who fought the Qing and the CCP hid here when the KMT butchered them and the Japanese invaded.
Hong Kong = A piece of China that has absorbed a lot of British culture. This is what makes it unique in itself apart from anywhere else. Apart from China and apart from Europe. This is one of the reasons why Hong Kong is so cool. Nobody needs to trace it back to the cave-man to find its heritage. From fishing Island to top-notch world class city is enough for a unique heritage.
Not to mention that practically everyone wears western dress.
I Gandhi
In order to commemorate British colonial legacy in HK, Central District should be renamed British Opium War District. Queen's Road should be renamed Opium War Road.



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