Tycoons turn to Beijing after Hong Kong museum rejects request for handover exhibition

Local officials accused of indifference after claiming there are no time slots available to host the show

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 11:24pm

About 20 Hong Kong tycoons and art collectors will lend items from their precious antique collections for an exhibition to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover – but you will need to travel to Beijing to see it.

A local museum turned down requests by the organiser, the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association, saying all its spaces were fully booked at the scheduled time between June and August next year.

So now the show will be held at the renowned Capital Museum in Beijing and feature items from the collection of Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, former chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, and Ming dynasty furniture worth more than HK$32 million owned by association president Eddy Li Sau-hung, the Post has learnt.

The decision to hold the event in Beijing comes on the heels of a controversial plan to build a HK$3.5 billion museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District to house a permanent display of relics provided by the Palace Museum to mark the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. The project has been criticised for a lack of public consultation.

Li said local collectors had spent years accumulating their antiques, which included relics looted from mainland China by Western powers.

“We are very disappointed,” Li said, adding that the 20th anniversary offered the perfect chance to recognise local collectors’ efforts in preserving lost national treasures and educating the public about Chinese history. “It is really a shame.”

Li accused officials of being indifferent when he first contacted the Hong Kong Museum of History at the start of the year and was bluntly told there was “no time slot” in 2017.

The adjacent Hong Kong Museum of Art was closed for major renovations and would not reopen until 2018, he said.

In reply to the Post, a spokeswoman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department – which manages the city’s public museums – said the exhibition programme at the Museum of History “had been planed a long time ago”, and “no vacant slot could be offered”. She added the department had given support to the association in organising the exhibition in Beijing.

They don’t respect local collectors. They don’t understand the value of their collections
Eddy Li Sau-hung, Chinese Manufacturers’ Association

Li said the cultural value and variety of the private collections in the city could easily beat any provincial-level museums and even several national ones, as Hong Kong was an affluent city.

“But local residents won’t have a chance to see them,” he added.

Li, who is honorary president of the World Collectors Society of Chinese Cultural Relics, blamed Hong Kong bureaucracy for hindering efforts at cultural and historical education.

“They don’t respect local collectors. They don’t understand the value of their collections.”

Li said patriotic Hong Kong collectors, including himself, had been buying relics looted from China during wars at international auctions for more than three decades, while mainland tycoons had only been doing so in recent years.

In contrast to the cold shoulder given by local authorities, Li said the Capital Museum and Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture had welcomed the offer of antiques from Hong Kong and immediately fixed a slot for the exhibition.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the building of the city’s version of the Palace Museum continued, as 24 lawmakers sent a letter on Wednesday to Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Legislative Council’s House Committee, demanding a special meeting to discuss the project.