Hong Kong Cultural Conversation

Conservation is now recognized worldwide as an important component of sustainable development, particularly in cities undergoing rapid development. In Hong Kong, however, it was not until the recent years that the city’s government, citizens and the media have brought more attention to the development of the city’s cultural and arts scene and preservation of the former British colony’s unique cultural heritage. In response to the social unrest, the government has begun to develop a specific strategy with regard to the arts and culture.

One main focus of their strategies lies in the preservation of Hong Kong cultural heritage. However, despite the government’s effort on heritage preservation, what probably is just as frustrating is the Hong Kong government’s awkward attempts at heritage preservation and privatization of public spaces. Is the government making progress to preserve our cultural heritage? Or is it just making progress to transform our heritage into commodities and taking further steps to engage in economic exploitation of public space?

What elements should be put into consideration when we talk about cultural preservation and urban planning? Where are the missing parts in the design of existing projects to stand a chance of living the metropolitan spaces in accordance with the real needs and hopes of the people who live in the space? Problem that lies behind the positive metropolitan image of Hong Kong Despite the image of Hong Kong as a metropolitan city successful in international finance, commerce and tourism, a deep-rooted problem that lies in Hong Kong people’s heart is a lack of sense of belonging, a lack of Hong Kong identity.

During colonial period, Hong Kong has been referred to as a borrowed space and borrowed time. Meanwhile, the differences in culture and civilization between Hong Kong and China created a barrier to Hong Kong people’s identifying themselves as Chinese. “Hong Kong’s lack of identity is also due to its status as not so much a place as a space of transit, whose residents think of themselves of transients and migrants on their way between China and other cities. Worse still, after the handover in 1977, we have been experiencing limited democracy in our society, as reflected in limited political rights granted to the public and lack of public election mechanism. “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” therefore remains a political slogan and still a goal. Searching for Hong Kong identity continues, and this psychological barrier partly explains why the Hong Kong brands and products often faced the criticism of lacking a unique identity.

Conserving cultural heritage as a way to define self identity The limitations on democracy in post-colonial Hong Kong is causing more public outcry to seek expression or confirmation of their identities through preservation of arts and culture. It has been argued that the role of art and culture in Hong Kong has taken on increasing significance in the city’s search for an identity over the past 13 years since China resumed sovereignty over the territory. More and more people identify themselves as Hongkonger and less as Chinese or British colonist.

People are defining themselves as Hongkongers and conserving Hong Kong’s heritage, especially architectures and sites where their collective memories came from is part of that self-defining. Along with these attempts is a change in societal expectations. Hong Kong used to be a developers’ dream as economic prosperity over the past 30 years has been largely due to its immense rate of construction. Now people see the paradox that as they are advancing to become a global city they are also losing parts of their lives, thus there emerged voices on conservation.

While the Hong Kong government’s heritage policies—or lack thereof—are threatening to destroy what is left of our past that constitutes our cultural identity in the name of development, people start to speak out on preserving what they grew up with and feel it is important to taking the lead in mentoring the next generation about Hong Kong’s history and cultural heritage. The public space in Hong Kong being a battle field In Hong Kong, every inch of land is labeled with an economic value. The high value of land in Hong Kong heightens the level of control and conflict in land use.

In the past few years, we have already seen the tenement houses on Wing Lee Street in Central, the Graham Street Market in Central, Lee Tung Street and Queen’s Pier in Wanchai, all being the landmarks of old Hong Kong, earmarked for destruction. We have also seen the privatization of public space at the expenses of public interests: shopping centers in public housing estates originally managed by the Housing Authority have been privatized by The Link; the development of West Kowloon are tilted towards orporate interests not the livelihood of residents; The harbour front of Hong Kong Island, cut off from the living space of ordinary people, has turned into the backyard of luxurious private residential complexes or giant shopping mall housing all the big global brands; the Central seafront reclamation area also falls into the same fate -it is designed as an extension of government offices and the huge Mody Mall, instead of being considered for cultural and recreational use as demanded by the Hong Kong public.

Urban and social planning on land use and distribution of wealth shows a tendency of being biased towards corporate and capitalists’ interests. Hong Kong people are yet to have a say to the use of their own space and this has given rise to many social problems such as public’s opposition sentiment towards government, self-identity crisis, substitution of local diversity and choices by global demands for homogeneity, widened gap between the rich and the poor, and so on.

The turning points that awake the government One of the turning points in public opinion with respect to heritage preservation was the renewal of Lee Tung Street in Wanchai. This street was well known to all of Hong Kong as “The Wedding Card Street. ” All the little shops provided all the props necessary to have a happy and prosperous Chinese wedding, giving this street an aura of vibrancy and joy. However, the urban renewal authority had targeted the whole street for renewal.

Many of the shopkeepers were upset to be pushed out of the area as they felt want to stay here not just for business but also because they had established a community with neighborhoods from a few generations and therefore a strong emotional attachment with the place. There were many protests and banners expressing the dissatisfaction of the shopkeepers. The public outcry did not work to influence the government’s decision and the shops are now all closed awaiting redevelopment.

Another turning point is the demolition of the Queen’s Ferry pier along with its iconic clock tower in Wanchai in December 2006 as part of the traffic development plan for Wanchai. It has led to widely publicized protests and even hunger strikes that the government had not anticipated. Yet the citizens again lost in the battle to fight for public space. The pier was a “young” 49 years when it was destroyed and was not considered old enough by the authorities and, therefore, it did not have enough heritage value.

Yet, to many Hong Kong people, the historic value of the pier is not measured only by its duration or by a number as of years or days, for time is also related to the question of memory, experience, moment. According to Local Action, a local group with hundreds of members that led the protests against the government with the goal of saving Hong Kong’s culture heritage and public space, “The pier is a symbol of Hong Kong history with strong socio-political significance for many social and political events took place at the pier.

It had also been used by many royalties and governors as they came to Hong Kong and many demonstrations took place here, signifying its importance as a landmark” People expressed that it is also a place where their memories and experiences came from therefore they have developed a strong attachment to “their place”. This public reaction echoes John Urry in “Reinterpreting Local Culture from Consuming Places“, in which John remarked that “the object signifies the place and that if the object were to be demolished or substantially changed then that would signify a threat to the place itself. ”

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