Nobody wants the Haw Par Mansion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2007, 12:00am

Government groups reject Aw family home

The historic Haw Par Mansion remains vacant despite escaping Cheung Kong's bulldozers in 2002 because no government department wants to take over the former residence of the late flamboyant billionaire Aw Boon Haw.

Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping said the government was still considering what to do with the 72-year-old Tai Hang mansion, which needs extensive work before it can be opened to the public.

'We have asked all departments but none of them wanted it,' he said.

The mansion is vacant as residents prepare to move into the adjacent luxury development built on the site of the Tiger Balm Gardens that once surrounded the residence with world-famous plaster images of hell.

Mr Ho said this paradox - that the gardens, once one of the city's most popular parks, were bulldozed while the mansion, which few members of the public had ever visited, was kept - illustrated the need for a new heritage conservation policy.

The Antiquities Advisory Board recommended the mansion's preservation because of its historical and architectural merit, rarity and integrity and the government struck a deal with Cheung Kong to keep it in return for greater density in the property development.

'Is the mansion a part our of collective memories? Have you entered it? How many people actually went into the building to see it?' Mr Ho asked.

'The 18 stories of hell outside, where you, me and everybody has visited, are collective memories but have been torn down because they have no artistic, historic and architectural value. They are just plaster and can be reconstructed any moment,' Mr Ho said, reiterating an argument he used in 2004.

But conservationists said it was up to the government whether new uses could be found for historic places.

'I'm not sure whether Mr Ho knows what he is talking about,' journalist-turned-conservationist Patsy Cheng Man-wah said.

'The ultimate goal of heritage conservation is to preserve the cultural significance of a place,' she said. 'Collective memory is a reference point to interpret why a place is important and to remind the people that they do not have to submit to authorities when considering whether a place has preservation value. Collective memory is not an ultimate goal.

'By reviewing a place's cultural significance, we give ourselves a chance to look into our cultural identity, social value and history. It is why we need to protect our heritage.

'Whatever is preserved must be useful. If the government can't figure out how to deal with heritage, it shows they lack understanding of the issue.'

Tiger Balm Garden was designed by the late Mr Aw in 1935 to advertise Tiger Balm products, provide public open space and educate Hong Kong Chinese about their cultural identity through depicting characters from traditional folklore and religious moral lessons.

His heir, Sally Aw Sian, sold the entire complex to Cheung Kong in 1998.