500+ Things that Represent Hong Kong

Buns and Lanterns

There are so many things that are awesome about Hong Kong’s culture.  Now, it’s becoming official.  In response to the UN Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Hong Kong government has compiledlist of over 500 things it considers representative of the city’s cultural heritage.  It took seven years to put the list together.

The Convention seeks to raise awareness of and safeguard intangible cultural heritages which is defined as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. ..and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.”

Hong Kong’s list covers five categories:

1) Oral Traditions and Expressions (includes Cantonese, oral traditions of old clans such as Sheung Shui Liu)

2) Performing Arts (includes Cantonese opera, Cantonese music from the 1920s – 1950s, and fishermen’s laments)

3) Social Practices, Rituals, and Festive events (includes Che Kung (車公 / 车公) Festival and Tai Ping Hung Chiu (太平洪朝), and dragon boat racing)

4) Knowledge and Practices Concerning Nature and the Universe (includes traditional Chinese medicine, snake wine, and traditional jade stone knowledge)

5) Traditional Craftsmanship (includes fermented black soy bean, oyster sauce, and dim sum)

Although some of the items on the list are a part of Chinese culture generally and not necessarily unique to Hong Kong (e.g., four-character idiomatic expressions, dumplings, seal carving, and paper-cutting), the list recognizes Hong Kong’s diversity with the inclusion of festivals such as Diwali and Holi.

Despite its length, some consider it incomplete.  Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai (胡志偉) wondered about the exclusion of cha chaan teng (茶餐厅 / 茶餐廳), old-fashioned casual restaurants.   People Power lawmaker Raymond Chin Chi-chuen (陳誌全 /陳志全) looks at the question of Hong Kong’s identity in relation to China in his questioning of why Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day and June 4 vigils were not included.

It’s also interesting that things from Hong Kong’s modern culture, such as its film and music industries, and things that reflect British influence did not make the list.   Perhaps despite being closely associated with Hong Kong, they are too recent to imbue permanence.

Not all of the items on Hong Kong’s list will make it on the UNESCO’s list, rather it is the first step in the process of UN recognition.  At a time when Hong Kong faces an identity crisis and is concerned of becoming “just another Chinese city,” efforts like this, the Heritage Office, Heritage Museum, and M+’s NEONSIGNS.HK are important steps towards preserving Hong Kong’s unique cultural heritage.

Is there anything you think was left off the list or shouldn’t be there?  What other sites are there dedicated to remembering what makes Hong Kong Hong Kong?

Image: Buns and Lanterns by Scott Edmunds, Flickr licensed through Creative Commons