On paper it is called the new Museum of History. Some insiders call it the Museum of Mickey Mouse. On plans appear a forest of plastic trees, a fleet of model boats, 6,000 square metres of space, and a bottom line of $580 million. Yet this history museum gives the subjects of corruption, anti-corruption, tunnel construction, population, new towns, elections, reclamation, civic education, governors, riots and protests just 16 square metres - smaller than a housing estate living room and enough space for three computer terminals. The permanent exhibition, on which work is about to begin inside the new construction beside the Science Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui, has already gained adverse publicity because the tanks of Tiananmen - and the resulting protests by one million people on the streets of Hong Kong in 1989 - were originally not to be included. There are far worse problems. This morning the Museums Select Committee and Finance Select Committee will meet at the Provisional Urban Council chambers to recommend design changes suggested after a media-led protest. After gaining access to the detailed specifications of the exhibition, this writer believes they should be arguing for the whole plan to be ditched and rethought. While, admittedly, there are some charming shopfronts and promising-looking displays of living conditions, this is certainly an example of dumbing down. Visitors are expected to be passive viewers of someone else's cautious and not very challenging view of the past. Walk with me, if you will, through the blueprint plans of the museum that presents Hong Kong's history to Hong Kong. You will, I'm afraid, have to put up with the unfriendly glares of officials who will not be delighted to discover that the South China Morning Post has somehow gained access to these secret plans. But there are enough local people depressed about the design - by Jean Jacque Andre Associates Ltd - to lend their blueprints for a morning. We enter through an ovoid portal surrounded by rocks. Rocks? But what about the concrete skyline that is the Hong Kong we know. Happy to be of service, our designers have given us concrete (or man-made) rocks. Happy? Look up; you can't miss it. There, two huge storeys high, built into the artificial rockface is a map of Asia pinpointing the SAR. The fact that anyone walking into the museum would have a pretty good idea of where we are seems to have passed our designers by. I don't know which local people agreed this particular feature, but it explains the mystery of who buys those dreadful pewter souvenir models of Hong Kong from tacky tourist shops on the Peak. In the next room we have the trees, 10 times higher than a person. Artificial primeval forest trees in an approximately 410-square-metre two-storey atrium. That is about 25 times the space given to all those petty details of modern history mentioned at the beginning of this article. Why spend millions of dollars building plastic trees when we can just take a short trek into a country park or walk around the Botanical Gardens, you ask. The Museum of History was unable to comment on any of the issues being discussed at this morning's meeting. The rest of the first floor is taken up by the Yue, Sui and Tang dynasties, a full-size model of a Tanka fishing junk, 10 metres long, ancestral halls, a six-room Hakka house, illustrations of the Hoklo people, with not one fishpond but five, just to show how much Hoklo people like ponds. Upstairs the Opium War is illustrated by two cannons and a fleet of ships - each between five and 10 metres long, then a Cantonese tea house, a grocery, a tailor shop, another teashop just in case you missed the first one, a pawnbrokers and a banyan tree. Shopfronts are nice in museums - I remember when the Museum of London opened about 20 years ago with lots of shopfronts in it and we all thought that was very modern. It's just that there are an awful lot of them here. So we have had a bit of the Museum of Botany, the Museum of Geology, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Museum of Teashops. At last - I hope you are not tired of walking yet, this bit is pretty short - we come to history as we know it. Some interesting details on the Japanese occupation, a 1930s apartment, another teashop, information about the hospital service, and a movie theatre. Oh and all that boring civic stuff about human rights, corruption and elections and how this city is growing and dynamic in the 1980s and 1990s are in those computers in that stuffy little room. Let's go through to the final room of Hopes for the Future with details of the handover and displays, souvenirs and pictures of the provisional legislature. But after the handover? Sorry, that's the end of the show and please make your way to the gift shop where you might (and I'm guessing here) be able to buy some nice pewter models of that rock-and-globe combination at the beginning of the exhibition. There are no substantial extra rooms where, for example, a curator in 2004 might be able to explore the long-term effects of the economic decline of 1997-1998, the changing use of the waterfront, the 1998 elections or the impact of returning to China. Visitors to the museum in the next millennium will not be helped to learn about any recent social changes in this history museum that celebrates only the death of the past, not the life of the present. As our photographer commented cynically, looking at the plans: 'Well, we wanted 50 years of no change and that's what the history museum is showing us.' 'It's like a roller-coaster,' said one Hong Kong permanent resident, unhappily. But who is being taken for a ride? Is it the Hong Kong public who are paying for it all? Or is it those Provisional Urban Councillors who presumably are adding their signatures to this in the belief it will be an important and interesting addition to the Hong Kong cultural scene? Or Hong Kong historians who seem to think they can rewrite the past simply by putting the tricky bits into a back room? At their meeting on January 15 the Museums Select Committee concluded: 'There was no problem with the direction and approach of the exhibition.' The original plans cost US$3,888,000 (about HK$30 million) - more with the last-minute redesigns that will be asked for at this morning's meeting. Scrapping them would be a small price to pay for a museum Hong Kong could be proud of.