Forty years ago, when Yung Chi-ming was in his 20s, he began helping out with the Tai Ping Ching Chiu, the traditional festival on Cheung Chau. Like many seniors on the island, Mr Yung, 64, is still involved. The Tai Ping Ching Chiu festival, well-known for its bun scrambling competition, attracts numerous visitors. However, for Mr Yung and his relatives, the festival means much more. Mr Yung and his wife, who are now grandparents, usually travel from Cheung Chau to the city to meet family members because it is cheaper than having them all travel to the island. That all changes during Tai Ping Ching Chui, when friends and relatives flock back to Cheung Chau. 'Whether living overseas or outside the island, Cheung Chau people come back during the festival. We are very united,' Mr Yung said. United or not, there is no guarantee that the soul of the festival will be preserved. Mr Yung knows full well how much work goes into organising it, and he fears that its essence will fade one day with no young people willing to take on the responsibility. To seniors like Mr Yung, preserving these festival events and rituals is always foremost in their minds. The government has allocated funds to the district council for organisation, publicity and promotion. And the flood of tourists to Cheung Chau during festival time provides an economic boost. However, not every festival has an eye-catching and popular event like Tai Ping's bun scrambling competition. Wan Fok-ming, 71, is a sixth-generation Tai O resident, and spends most of his time in helping keep Tai O's festivals going. 'Some rituals and festival events of Tai O are losing out slowly as more Tai O people pass away. When more and more people who know these rituals have died, fewer people will know what is going on,' said Mr Wan. 'Young generations have moved out and they are not interested in the rituals. Some think what we are doing is superstitious, but our grandfather and father did this too, and we follow.' However, there may be help on the horizon for the likes of Mr Wan. The government is going to conduct a survey of intangible cultural heritage in the next two years. This exercise is to fulfil Hong Kong's obligations under the Unesco convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, which was ratified by China in 2004 and came into force in Hong Kong two years ago. According to the world heritage body convention, intangible cultural heritage can manifest itself in oral traditions; performing arts, social practices, rituals and festival events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship. A committee composed of historians and museologists was set up last week to monitor the conduct of the survey. The project is intended to produce a database of intangible cultural heritage. As inventory-making in this area is new to most countries, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department commissioned the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to conduct a pilot study in October 2006. During the pilot research, a close study was made of the Guangdong government's first provincial list, which was done that year. It was found that 34 of the 78 items listed by Guangdong existed in and were developed in Hong Kong. Liu Tik-sang, who was responsible for the pilot study, said that herbal tea and canto-drama were two of the items that Hong Kong could also claim. 'However, for some items like unicorn dancing, although having the same name, the formats in Guangdong and Hong Kong are different,' said Professor Liu. Cheng Siu-woo, who is also part of the research team, said mainland officials played an important role in deciding the Guangdong list. 'What came up on the list was competition between different provinces and cities in some sense,' said Professor Cheng. The professors agree that instead of an inventory process dominated by administrators, there is plenty of room to develop our own list. Chau Hing-wah, curator (intangible heritage) at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, agrees there is plenty of scope for setting up a comprehensive inventory. 'We have to talk to experts, scholars, local communities. It is important to get the community involved,' Mr Chau said. Professor Liu believes an inventory of intangible cultural heritage is a 'contested space'. 'The definition can be very loose, so some people will think it is cha chaan teng [Chinese tea shop], while others will think of milk tea. I believe the process to come up with the list should be very interesting,' he said. However, Professor Liu is worried that some cultural traditions will become marginalised or commercialised. 'Like the case with ethnic minorities in remote areas on the mainland, many of these traditions have become a product for sale, or an attraction to tourists.' He said that the interest of the middle classes in 'exotic culture' had dictated the development of these cultures. 'Some farmers cannot earn enough money, so they just do a drama if it is defined as an intangible cultural heritage, so that they can earn more money,' Professor Liu said. 'But the result will turn out to be consumption, rather than delivery of the real essence of the ritual behind it.' He suggested a bottom-up approach should be adopted while doing the inventory. 'An elderly person who can sing songs in a special dialect can call the department and ask them whether it can be counted as cultural heritage,' he said. Having spent the past two years dealing with issues around intangible cultural heritage, Mr Chau agrees that there must be as wide a variety as possible. 'We are talking about human beings and their community - if the intangible cultural heritage list is only set up for the tourists, it will be very sad,' Mr Chau said. Professor Liu and Professor Cheung agreed that human connection and the community spirit should come first. 'There is no point if only the form of cultural heritage is retained, and we get someone to film it and ask actors to perform. It might be better but it is much more important to have the heritage cohere to people,' Professor Liu said. 'There is no point revitalising a festival in a place where no people live owing to the poor conditions.' Professor Cheung believes relationships among people should come first instead of administrative preferences when compiling the list. Once the inventory is in place, the government will identify those of significant cultural value and apply for their inclusion in the intangible cultural heritage list at the national level.