A right step towards saving our heritage

After a decade of studies and consultation, Hong Kong has drawn up a list of items related to our history that deserves official support

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 2:20am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 2:20am

The need to preserve culture and heritage is universal. After almost a decade of studies and consultation, the Hong Kong government has identified 20 items of intangible cultural heritage for urgent preservation, such as “basin food” and the art of making “silk-stocking milk tea”. Belated as it is, the move is the right response to the city’s awakening to conservation.

Drawn from an inventory of 480 items, the first representative list of intangible cultural heritage is meant to help prioritise resources for protection. It also includes those items that were inscribed to the national heritage list earlier, including Cantonese opera, herbal tea, the Yu Lan Ghost Festival and the fire dragon dance. The entries are well known to locals and perhaps, some foreigners as well.

The list goes beyond giving official recognition. It keeps the past alive, enhances cultural pride and identity and makes conservation goals clearer. Additionally, it helps bring in the tourist dollar, as in the case of many Unesco-listed world heritage sites overseas.

Getting tangible: Hong Kong seeks to spread the message on intangible cultural heritage

Currently, there are no fewer than 174 state parties to the United Nations Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, each of which shall identify its own treasures and device measures to preserve them. Compared to other listed items such as French gastronomic meals, the Belgium beer culture, Korean kimchi and the Mediterranean diet, our milk tea and basin food may seem less appealing. But it is through the collective efforts to showcase the heritage of each culture that mutual respect and appreciation can be fostered. Credit goes to those who have catalogued a trove of treasures worthy of conservation around the world. It goes a long way in helping different cultures to better appraise what we have inherited from our ancestors. The fact that many of our customs and practices have withstood the test of time without government protection underlines their significance to our societies. But our relentless pace of modern development means they also risk becoming lost or forgotten. Prioritising resources and efforts in conservation is not wrong. But for those cultural items that fail to make it to the list, there should be regular reviews.