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Published: 01:11, August 19, 2022 | Updated: 10:02, August 19, 2022
Building an ‘international cultural hub’ requires strengthened govt funding
By Mervyn Cheung
Published:01:11, August 19, 2022 Updated:10:02, August 19, 2022 By Mervyn Cheung

Assured of central government support in the 14th national Five-Year Plan (2021-25), the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is already in high gear to becoming a cultural hub on the world map. 

This is becoming steadily accomplished by the operations in the West Kowloon Cultural District, which recently got the long-awaited Hong Kong Palace Museum off the ground after spending 20 years on its design and construction. While basically a classic Beijing version but with Hong Kong characteristics, the Palace Museum has filled a critical gap in the original portrayal of the West Kowloon cultural complex, which was conspicuously devoid of traditional Chinese arts and culture.

A total of 914 artifacts are on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing and grandly displayed in nine different exhibition halls in the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Chinese emperor costumes and chairs are reported to be among the most popular national treasures. Thanks to the specialist support from academics in the local higher education sector, the exhibits are presented in an interactive and lively manner.

With patronage from over 6,000 people when it first opened its doors to the public on July 3, the Hong Kong Palace Museum was off to a propitious start in its majestic role to turn the city into a global cultural icon. Before they began their exhilarating tour in the museum, the first-ever visitors were greeted warmly at the entrance by the new secretary for culture, sports and tourism, Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, and board chairman of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, Bernard Charnwut Chan, who also officiated at the opening ceremony kicked off by a traditional lion dance.

Excited visitors keen to check out the enchanting collection were even found to have dressed up in the exquisite costumes for the memorable occasion. They were so happy and cheerful about the opportunity to catch an unforgettable glimpse of Beijing’s Palace Museum’s arts pieces in Hong Kong, which they could see despite the pandemic-induced barrier to traveling to the capital of the motherland. Most visitors ended their tour of this new landmark of Chinese culture with the remarks that “the museum really gives off the motherland’s vibe”, which nurtures the feeling of being physically in the capital city.

Now that all the facilities have been completed for both the M+ Museum, which was opened last year, and the newly inaugurated Hong Kong Palace Museum, the HKSAR has become the leading art destination in Asia. In weighing attainments among the renowned cities round the world, cultural landmarks have invariably been associated with Western cities like Paris, London and New York. Hong Kong has mostly been graded as a financial center and transportation node. For decades, the territory was called a “cultural desert” — a near-stigma of the city in the global cultural landscape that is now swept up by the West Kowloon cultural complex.

It should be clearly realized that even for the sustainability of Hong Kong as a financial, transportation, business and innovation magnet, competition for the needed talents from across the continents will be in the city’s favor only if there are corresponding stunning achievements in security and stability, education and culture, as well as housing and biodiversity. These are nothing other than crucial components in the perspective of Hong Kong offering a right place for building highly satisfying careers and enjoying most livable environments under the world-approved “one country, two systems” framework.

What then is the way forward, given the HKSAR’s mission to become an international cultural hub? To start with the richness of the new museum’s inventory, there should be an unceasing effort to expand collaboration with overseas partners in the arts field. As disclosed recently by the museum’s chairman, Bernard Chan, negotiations for cooperation are underway with 70 overseas cultural entities. Not only that, additional exhibits on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing will take turns being shown in its counterpart in Hong Kong. Given a total collection of 1.8 million classic pieces in the Palace Museum in Beijing, there is considerable room for ticking up the array of exquisite pieces to be demonstrated in Hong Kong’s Cultural District, which will create a win-win scenario in which the international location of Hong Kong is capable of illuminating culture and arts pieces from the mainland.

According to the museum’s management, there are 30 million to 40 million middle-class people in Hong Kong’s surrounding regions who readily generate a vibrant demand for high-end public-sector cultural activities, in addition to the long-existing private-sector market as manifested; for instance, by the well-established auctions for art articles. And with the quality hardware already provided, there is the pressing need for the HKSAR government to engage in the training of relevant professionals, to provide expert manpower for archiving and museum administration, for instance.

For the gigantic operation of a public endeavor like the West Kowloon cultural complex, which cuts across local, regional and international boundaries, effective planning and accrual of financial resources is mandatory. The HKSAR government is understood to have assigned an outlay of slightly over HK$21 billion ($2.7 billion) for the project, which is regarded as markedly inadequate. Estimates indicate that income from admission fees, sponsorships and the like have come to approximately 60 percent of the recurrent cost in running the complex. In the long run, there is an imperative need to develop and increase revenue from office rentals and receipts from deployment of commercial and residential facilities. It follows necessarily that additional financial resources have to be acquired to help fund the prevailing setup and new development. To put the city in a viable position to fulfill its role as an international cultural hub, it is strongly justified for the HKSAR authorities to consider boosting at least the front-end financial loading for the West Kowloon cultural complex, while advising its leadership on ways to source new incomes.

Undoubtedly, there is a lasting need to teach the general public how to appreciate correctly arts and culture in different forms and contexts. As the new culture, sports and tourism chief, Kevin Yeung, said at its opening, the Hong Kong Palace Museum could tell “the Chinese story to the world”. He also encouraged residents to visit the museum more frequently, to foster solidly a sense of national identity. This vital training process should best commence at the school stage by piecing together the efforts from both the HKSAR government and the school sector to serve a common good for Hong Kong and its motherland. 

The author is the chairman of Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organization and a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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