With the opening of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, the landscape of the West Kowloon Cultural District splits into two centers — the museum of artifacts in the west, and the heritage of ancient performing arts in the east. Thus the district embraces two systems: one focusing on traditional Chinese opera (xiqu) and the other displaying cultural relics and the art of ancient civilizations. I propose merging the two cultural showcases, with the former being a part of the latter. In that way, efforts and resources can be consolidated effectively to support the holistic promotion of traditional Chinese arts and culture.
To promote Chinese opera, it is necessary to preserve the tradition while making innovations. How to make innovations? While traditions must be valued with due respect, innovative creations deserve to be supported. The Hong Kong Palace Museum and the West Kowloon Xiqu Centre together can create a holistically synergistic effect since visual arts and performing arts are two inseparable aspects of the cultural heritage. Our forefathers would wrap up them under one term, “quadrivium”, or four subjects of learning for a well-educated person. Plato named the four as arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, while ancient Chinese scholars focused on playing the guqin (or Chinese zither), playing chess, practicing calligraphy, and drawing ink and brush paintings. Guqin is about music, chess nurtures wisdom, calligraphy is about writing, and painting refers to the visual art. Thus, guqin, chess, calligraphy, and painting symbolize four core components of Chinese culture. The four aspects signify the four integrated categories in Chinese learning.
In addition to the basic elements of “drama” and “song” at the Xiqu Centre, traditional Chinese music is also one of the specialties of Hong Kong, and its significance should not be neglected. For example, we have the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, and we also have the time-honored departments of music of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong, which have nurtured hundreds of musicians and experts in musicology, as well as accumulating the local cultural resources over the years. If these resources are promoted through the giant two, their social impacts would be even greater than ever.
The hard times of the pandemic linger, and the West Kowloon Cultural District must cope with its financial issues to survive the resource constraints. The merger of the Hong Kong Palace Museum and the West Kowloon Xiqu Centre would create more synergies while streamlining the operational costs. The major issue is to run cost-effectively. From the perspective of a holistic promotion of Chinese cultural education, the merger of the Big Two would generate great benefits. It would also create a consorted momentum to an immersive national education that wins the hearts and minds of the people in Hong Kong.
How to make the merge happen? How to make it work? First things first. It is a prerequisite to knit the Big Two to echo with each other with regard to administration and program planning. With one venue situated on Canton Road and the other inside the West Kowloon Art Park, there are many areas where the two venues could interact with each other. In terms of program planning, many items can be revitalized. Exhibitions can also evolve into performances. Exhibitions of Chinese culture in the Palace Museum can be explored and experienced in the Xiqu Centre, with ancient costumes and operatic costumes being available for photo-taking, and traditional Chinese musical instruments being encouraged for a trial.
If a concert hall is to be built in the West Kowloon Cultural District, it should become the home of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Every world-class concert hall around the world has a resident orchestra. The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra well-deserves its own venue exclusively for the Chinese orchestra. It has been a common practice in the world that only a Western orchestral setup is available for Chinese instrument performances. With the joint hands of the Hong Kong Palace Museum and the West Kowloon Xiqu Centre, along with a concert hall dedicated to the Chinese Orchestra, the West Kowloon Cultural District would be a hub of Chinese culture in a real sense. The merging of the Big Two would set up a strategic platform that can truly tell the good stories of China, Hong Kong included.
The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and artistic director of Zuni Icosahedron.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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