Hong Kong’s Palace Museum: why we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth
Michael Chugani argues Hongkongers should be grateful for the gift of Chinese relics from Beijing, set to be displayed at the West Kowloon Cultural District, after outcry over the lack of public consultation on the plans
Let’s imagine a situation. Suppose the Queen consented to the Crown Jewels being displayed at a purpose-built site at the West Kowloon Cultural District. Imagine former British governor Chris Patten quietly negotiated the loan as a goodwill gesture to the city Britain once ruled.
Or let’s imagine Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor won French approval for the Louvre’s famous items, including the Mona Lisa, to be showcased here. Would there be a furious backlash that the public was not consulted?
I think most of us know the answer to that question. Deep down, we also know the outcry over a Hong Kong version of the Palace Museum at the WKCD is fuelled not by the government bypassing a public consultation, but that it is being gifted by Beijing.
What other society would fume over a new museum that displays priceless relics at no cost whatsoever to the public? But we are a society at war with itself, trapped in a quest for an identity that departs from reality. We are unable to fully come to terms with being a part of China 20 years after it became a fact.
Contempt for our communist rulers runs so deep in some of us that we even resist their gift of Chinese artefacts that predate communism by centuries. I can’t help thinking that if Patten instead of Lam had arranged the museum, there may not even have been a backlash.
Lam is mocked as Beijing’s new lapdog by the opposition – which needs an enemy to remain relevant – after she hinted she may run for chief executive now that Leung Chun-ying intends to step down. But if Lam had arranged a display of the Crown Jewels instead of relics from China, the outcry over a skipped consultation would most likely be muted, if it even materialised.
When I heard about the museum, my immediate reaction was things were finally moving at the WKCD after years of delays. We don’t need to consult the public on everything, only things that most affect them. Consultations get us stuck, as evidenced by the Central Market revitalisation. Our officials are paid to make decisions.
I thought Hongkongers would welcome the museum plan. But no. This is what we have become, a society so addicted to political confrontation that we even pick a fight with the bearer of a gift.