Roundup: Heritage Preservation in Hong Kong Well Rewarded

The heritage preservation efforts of Hong Kong, although in its relative infancy of systematic archeological research, has won a number of international awards in the past five years and has added new glamour to its tourism attraction to visitors from around the world.

Since the Hong Kong's return to China, there has been a greater interest and desire on the part of both the government and the public to preserve and convert Hong Kong's archeological heritage into "living relics" so that they become an integral part of the community.

Leading the role in heritage preservation is the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) of the Hong Kong Special AdministrativeRegion, which was established in 1976 when the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance was enforced to ensure that the best examples of Hong Kong heritage are protected for posterity.

Its delegated duty is to search for, identify and record a widerange of historical buildings and structures, as well as archeological sites. So far, over 900 historical buildings and structures and archeological sites have been recorded and graded.

Chiu Siu-tsan, executive secretary of AMO, said that it is no longer true that all Hong Kong people are too wrapped up in makingmoney to pay heed to and appreciate their heritage.

There are abundant examples of how successful protection, utilization and promotion of restored historical relics can becomemoney spinners in terms of the profits it generates from visitors,not to mention the incalculable joy it brings to local residents and foreign visitors alike, added Chiu, who had spent so far 20 years towards the preservation of Hong Kong's heritage.

Chiu said that AMO joined the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to carry out the rescue excavation of a late Neolithic burial site affected by a large-scale residential development at Tung Wan Tsai North, Ma Wan in 1997.

The site was recognized by archeologists in the Chinese mainland as one of the country's top 10 archeological achievementsof that year, he added.

In 2000, AMO clinched the Outstanding Project Award by UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2000 for its restoration of Hung Shing Temple on Kau Sai Chau and repeated the feat the following year for its restoration of King Law Ka Shuk in Tai Po, according to Chiu.

"We're also happy to note that this increased awareness and importance attached to heritage preservation seemed to have also reached the boardrooms," Chiu said.

Corporations are now more willing to loosen their money belts to finance specific preservation projects. Donations of 3,048,000 HK dollars (US$ 390,769) and 1,720,000 HK dollars (22,051U.S. dollars) were received respectively in 1999/2000 and 2000/2001 from the commercial sector to undertake preservation or restoration work.

Indeed, tourism has become one of Hong Kong's most important industries, attracting a record 13.73 million visitors in 2001. Itgenerated some 76.4 billion HK dollars (US$ 9.79 billion)in earnings in 2000, or about five percent of Hong Kong's GDP.

"But one of the most important turning points in local heritagepreservation was when the chief executive spoke in his 1998 policyaddress on the need to promote our heritage to foster a sense of belonging and identity. A review of the heritage policy was also ordered in 1999," Chiu said.

Of equal importance, and in response to the chief executive's call in his 1998 policy address, was the Hong Kong Tourism Board's(HKTB) establishment of a Heritage Tourism Task Force comprising representatives from the government, travel industry and heritage professionals.

The task force was given the brief to focus on individual initiatives and on a broader strategy for promoting Hong Kong's heritage sites and developing opportunities for joint promotions with the mainland and other regional destinations.

Important projects launched under the auspices of the task force included the production of an interactive CD-ROM and Cultural Sequence Chart highlighting Hong Kong's 6,000-year history, brochures introducing visitors to the declared monuments in Hong Kong and guidebooks on heritage buildings, heritage trailsand traditional Chinese festivals and the training of tour co-ordinators.

A survey conducted by the HKTB in 2000 showed that 17 percent of the 20,000 visitors it interviewed expressed interest in heritage-related activities.

( People's Daily February 25, 2002)

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