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Britain's legacy 'missing' on list of 480 things that represent Hong Kong's culture

Britain's legacy 'missing' on list of 480 things that represent Hong Kong's culture

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on July 5, 2014.

From moon cakes to fishermen's ballads, the recently issued list of Hong Kong intangible cultural heritage covers myriad facets of culture and history. But one is absent: the East-meets-West legacy that makes it unique among Chinese cities.

The inventory's aim is to list the items that best represent the Hong Kong community and provide cultural continuity. But despite the city's rich colonial history, it does not include any overtly Western items.

"The list does not really reflect Hong Kong's bicultural heritage," University of Hong Kong history professor John Carroll said. "I don't know how [a lot of the items] really represent Hong Kong rather than Chinese culture in general."

The inventory does, however, include many non-local items such as Bangladesh's International Mother's Day and Teej, the Nepalese festival of women. Compiled over seven years, the list features 480 items ranging from oral traditions to social practices and craftsmanship.

The project began in 2006 after the government commissioned researchers from the University of Science and Technology to create the inventory following passage of a UN convention on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage.

Associate professor of humanities Liu Tik-sang, who led the team, said the researchers focused on finding items that provided a sense of community and did not intentionally exclude Western items.

"Eastern and Western is a very simple and not a very helpful definition," Liu told the Sunday Morning Post. "The major concern was [whether] the items are important to maintaining the people's community and that they are proud of them."

If a British community feels that certain cultural practices should be added to the list, they are welcome to contact the Heritage Museum, he added.

Liu cited Hong Kong-style milk tea and Feast Day - an annual Catholic ritual in Yim Tin Tsai, Sai Kung - as two Western items on the list. Yet in the inventory description for milk tea, there is no reference to the item's Western roots.

"When we talk about an item, we consider its relationship with the community," he said.

According to Carroll, Britain's cultural legacy in Hong Kong is not as entrenched as in other former colonies such as India but the city's colonial history has still left many marks. Some items that could have been on the list include Western holidays, high tea and horse racing, he said.

A record two million people attended races held by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in the 2012-13 season.

"There are celebrations such as Diwali [on the list] but not Christmas or Easter, which are certainly observed," he said. "The fact that Hong Kong was a British colony is why we still have Christmas and Easter as holidays."

Afternoon tea - also brought over by the British - has now become an integral part of Hong Kong culture.

Ritz Carlton executive chef Peter Find described Hong Kong's afternoon tea culture as well established and said he would like to see it on the list.

"I think it's a cultural aspect and it's been so for many, many years," Find said.

The government will update the list regularly as part of the UN convention's requirements.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: East-meets-West culture 'missing from heritage list'

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