Getting tangible: Hong Kong seeks to spread the message on intangible cultural heritage
Originally published at the South China Morning Post on August 27, 2016.
As the city gears up for its second annual Hong Kong Culture Festival, experts say the government needs to put more resources into preserving intangible cultural heritage and the city should look towards gaining greater recognition for it.
Featuring age-old traditions like Hakka kung fu and Chinese puppetry, the festival will run from September 2 to October 22.
Its aim is to be a platform for Hongkongers to rediscover their heritage and promote awareness of the importance of preserving culture, said organiser Hing Chao, founder and chairman of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Earthpulse Society.
“The festival will showcase cutting-edge digital media and technology,” Chao said.
“[It will also include] certain aspects of Chinese cultural practises which are not currently listed as [intangible heritage], including Chinese ink art.”
It has been two years since the government released and vowed to safeguard its list of 480 intangible cultural heritage items. The Intangible Cultural Heritage Office was set up last year to create more promotional and educational activities for the public, and a special centre was launched at the Sam Tung Uk Museum in Tsuen Wan in June.
According to Desmond Hui Cheuk-kuen, professor of social sciences at the Hang Seng Management College, the next step should be winning more national and international recognition for intangible cultural heritage items.
“It’s actually been around for a long time, this idea to protect or promote such heritage in Hong Kong,” Hui said. “The list is now very complete. What we can do now is see whether we could have a priority list and try to get [these items] gradually recognised.”
At present, 10 items on Hong Kong’s list have been included in the Ministry of Culture’s intangible cultural heritage list.
Cantonese opera is the only item on Hong Kong’s list which has been declared part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations. The practise won recognition in the Unesco list in 2009 after a joint submission by Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong. Unlike Macau, Hong Kong is not an associate member of Unesco.
Liu Tik-sang, director of the South China Research Centre at the University of Science and Technology and one of the researchers who helped compile the list, said that although international recognition was the ultimate goal, the government should first put more resources into cultural preservation.
Liu, who is a member of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Office’s advisory committee, said the department was now compiling a representative list of about 20 items from the initial 480-strong list to help set priorities.
“I think it’s important that we work out a representative list. But we also need to do something for the other items,” Liu said, adding the office had limited manpower.
“Intangible cultural heritage is new to Hong Kong and right now we are working on it, but I just feel that there are not enough resources.”
Cissy Ho Wing-see, head of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Office, said they would continue to conduct research and see whether any items could be submitted for recognition on the national list.
The office also plans to continue working with different organisations on ventures such as the festival, which will feature a two-day intangible cultural heritage mart, she said.
“The Intangible Cultural Heritage Office is currently working on in-depth studies ... to draw up the first representative list. This work should be completed this year,” Ho said.