Palace Museum handover anniversary events fail to connect with Hong Kong, adviser warns

Heritage expert also surprised at handling of HK$3.5 billion museum project in West Kowloon Cultural District

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 9:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 11:18pm

An adviser to the Palace Museum in Beijing has warned that events to mark this year’s 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule lack a local flavour and are unlikely to create a cultural connection with the public.

Chiu Kwong-chiu called for a joint display of local and national cultural treasures to create a common bond. He also expressed surprise at the secrecy involved when the Hong Kong government announced the city would build its own version of the renowned museum.

“I don’t quite understand why good news was made known like this,” Chiu, a Hong Kong-born and Paris-trained heritage specialist, said.

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Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed news of the project, to be built in the West Kowloon Cultural District, last month. Critics objected to the lack of public consultation.

“Perhaps the government lacks the experience in handling first-grade national treasures, which are categorised as top secret on the mainland and, as such, public consultation is impossible,” Chiu said.

Chiu has advised the Palace Museum since 2007 and has led the “We all live in the Forbidden City”, a project sponsored by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, since 2008.

He said the Leisure and Cultural Services Department contacted him a few months ago about two exhibitions at the Palace Museum to mark the anniversary. One will celebrate imperial birthdays in the Qing dynasty and the other will feature 200 artefacts from the museum’s Yangxin Hall.

“I felt the scale went much bigger than just the two projects and they lacked a local connection,” Chiu said.

By giving a local context to the national treasures, the cultural link between the two would become unbreakable
Chiu Kwong-chiu, heritage expert

“Take Yangxin Hall as an example. It was a small building but with the supreme power vested in the emperor who worked and lived there. We can pair it with the former Central Police Station which had the same awe-inspiring and a heritage status.”

The significance of coupling national relics with local culture was to create a common bond among the exhibits.

“By giving a local context to the national treasures, the cultural link between the two would become unbreakable, and that’s what culture should be,” he said.

Chiu said he could feel the “hurt” of the city’s cultural circles caused by the government supporting a non-local project. The HK$3.5 billion museum will be funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

“The government has to show the same determination for local projects and present it in a decent way,” he said, citing a famous case during the Spring and Autumn Period in ancient China (772-441 BC) in which a starving man rejected food given to him in an insulting way and died of hunger.

“What we need is affinity and some tact in communication, too.”

The cultural community, he continued, had to be as open as the city was in the past.

“All of a sudden I feel there is a lack of confidence, especially among those who oppose the Palace Museum for no good reason. Once you are picky about certain food, malnutrition will set in. Is that what we want for our future city?”