Hong Kong version of the Palace Museum should be welcomed
Brouhaha over lack of public consultation on the HK$3.5 billion project is misplaced as it will be funded by the Jockey Club and benefit the city
The Palace Museum in Beijing welcomes some 15 million visitors a year, making it the most visited museum complex in the world. Equally popular are its temporary exhibitions held in Hong Kong, as reflected in the response to the ongoing showcase of imperial wedding artefacts and rituals at the Heritage Museum in Sha Tin. So when an agreement has been made for more priceless exhibits to be displayed in a purpose-built museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District, it should come as good news.
Unfortunately, the surprise announcement has not been well received by some quarters in society. The project only came to light last Friday when officials sealed the deal in a ceremony in Beijing. This gave the perception that the public was not given a say in the process. That it will be built with a HK$3.5 billion donation from the Hong Kong Jockey Club instead of government funding further fuelled criticism that the Legislative Council was being bypassed.
The agreement might have surprised many locals who are used to everything being carried out after public consultation and funding approval from lawmakers. But this avenue has pros and cons. While the public will be kept informed of the process at every stage in a transparent manner, projects may get bogged down by a lengthy funding procedure. The lack of consultation and Legco funding approval does not mean the public will be kept in the dark. The government and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority should ensure that transparency and accountability will not be compromised. This will be the best way to get the public rallying behind this meaningful venture.
For the first time, the Palace Museum will have exhibits on loan for long-term display outside the capital. It was supported by the central government to mark the city’s 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. It shows the importance attached to Hong Kong and our ambition to develop a world-class arts hub.
Indeed, the initiative complements our tourism and creative industries, the latter of which is growing at more than 11 per cent a year. Under the plan, the Hong Kong Palace Museum will have a floor area of 30,500 square metres, featuring exhibition galleries, lecture theatres and activity rooms. The approach taken by officials enables construction to begin next year and be completed by 2022. Together with other cultural facilities, such as the M+ modern art museum, the arts hub is set to be a new attraction for locals and tourists alike.