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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hong Kong tries to save a bit of its storied past
By Patrick L. Smith International Herald Tribune
THURSDAY, JUNE 1, 2006

HONG KONG When Stalin's apparatchiks rewrote history books and airbrushed fallen colleagues out of photos, there was a saying among Soviet citizens: The future is certain, they would jest, it is the past that is not yet clear.

Oddly enough, roughly the same can be said today of this most capitalist of societies. Not quite a decade after the end of British colonial rule and the resumption of Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong cannot decide what of the past it wants to preserve and what it wants to drop from the picture.

The debate pits preservationists against profit-minded property developers.

At issue now is a complex of government buildings that included Hong Kong's oldest jail and dates from the territory's earliest days as a colony.

Although the last prisoners were released a couple of months ago, no one - not the government, not the property men, not the architects, not the preservationists - knows quite what to do with the place.

It is an awkward moment for a city long dedicated to the newest, tallest, most efficient and most profitable. There is widening concern here over the overall health of a society that has little in the way of collective memory.

"The price for not preserving history is that we will enter the malaise of modernity; there's nothing but 'now,' 'today,'" said Leo Lee Ou-Fan,

a professor at Chinese University. "It's the disease of the present. You get a less coherent society."

Concern for the old, it might be said, is something new in Hong Kong.

During the century and more that this was a port city of transients, full of traders and refugees and home to very few of them, the question of remembering and forgetting never arose. The past always made way for the present; heritage was something people thought about somewhere else.

Now Hong Kong is changing. As nerves have calmed over the resumption of Chinese sovereignty, many of its seven million people consider the territory home and want the sense of rootedness that comes with it.

"For all the years of colonial rule we were very confused about our identity," said Edward Ho, an architect who leads an advisory board that helps the government evaluate potential preservation sites. "We were British but not really, Chinese but not really. This question of establishing our identity has become even more important since the handover in 1997."

Identity may be more important now, but the problem for preservationists is that land values are no less important than they always have been.

The government has not altered a long-standing policy that requires designated heritage sites to be paying propositions. With Covent Garden in London and Boston's Faneuil Hall as models, the intent is to auction off sites to private-sector developers that can turn them into shops, hotels, restaurants or another combination of tourist- attracting facilities.

"We have to balance conservation and economic interests," said Esther Leung, the deputy secretary for home affairs.

In a city dense with glass-and-concrete towers, there are now 80 declared heritage sites.

But the government's policy has brought some of them to peculiar fates by any measure. One Victorian-era police station was saved by the government only to be leased to a supermarket chain.

Official policy proceeded in this fashion until recently. What brought things to a head were plans to recycle a large compound that housed the central police station, the magistracy courts and Victoria Prison, complete with dungeons.

You could call this a monument to colonial efficiency: apprehension, adjudication and incarceration all in one spot. But the two dozen buildings that form the walled quadrangle tell far more than a tale of tropical crime and punishment, which is why the trouble started.

The earliest of the buildings, a cell block, dates from the late 1850s.

Nearby is a police barracks of similar vintage, in full-dress colonial porticos; the magistracy was added in 1914, the police station five years later, and so on until the late 1940s. The compound, in short, is an irreplaceable narrative written in brick, plaster, granite and timber.

"A compound like this is an education in how a city evolved, how people thought and how social values changed," said Alexander Hui Yat- chuen, an architect and a purist in matters of preservation. "For once we have the opportunity to conserve something as a whole, and the whole is where the value lies."

Even a few years ago, Hui's argument would not have earned much more than polite nods. But a routine public consultation led to a cacophony of public protests that stunned all concerned into silence.

There are now no active plans for the site, no fixed guidelines as to how it should be preserved and no developer has tendered for it.

In effect, the territory's past has left it flummoxed.

China, as it often does in Hong Kong affairs, appears to loom in the background. Architects and scholars here say the mainland views buildings like the police station not as architecture but as artifacts of an era it wants Hong Kong to forget about in the name of national pride.

This lends the question of heritage a political tint, these sources say.

"Historical preservation is one expression of civil society's new demand for autonomy," said Leo Lee, the social critic. "Since there is no democracy, it's a proxy for politics."
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Interestingly, preservation was not a major issue even during the colonial days. Several key buildings were torn down, such as the post office and Murray House (which was eventually rebuilt in Stanley).
 

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Be as it may that China views the buildings as remnants of a colonial past, I don't think so many buildings should be earmarked for preservation, except for those with real architectural merit, and perhaps not take up so much land.

The TST clock tower, for example, is a perfect example of what, IMO is something that should be preserved. I think there's been tlk of preserving the old Wanchai market too, which is absolute rubbish. I'd rather keep the Queen's Pier (even though it is slated for rebuilding anyway) than some market.

Should Land reclamation take place in TST in the future, and the Star Ferry should be torn down, I would not be against it, as long as it would be rebuilt in one form or another.

Though I agree, Central Pier was a disaster.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
The China factor is being overplayed, since there are plenty of colonial structures in Chinese cities that are being preserved, such as the German presence in Qingdao, Russian presence in Harbin, and the other powers in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Tianjin.
 

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Be as it may that China views the buildings as remnants of a colonial past, I don't think so many buildings should be earmarked for preservation, except for those with real architectural merit, and perhaps not take up so much land.

The TST clock tower, for example, is a perfect example of what, IMO is something that should be preserved. I think there's been tlk of preserving the old Wanchai market too, which is absolute rubbish. I'd rather keep the Queen's Pier (even though it is slated for rebuilding anyway) than some market.

Should Land reclamation take place in TST in the future, and the Star Ferry should be torn down, I would not be against it, as long as it would be rebuilt in one form or another.

Though I agree, Central Pier was a disaster.
Land reclamation sure will not take place in front of TST Star Ferry. Not just because the government has said there won't be any further reclamation in VH after Central Reclamation Phase III and Wan Chai Reclamation Phase II.
If you think about it, there is a cruise ship terminal next to the Star Ferry. Although there is going to be new terminals at Kai Tak, but taking the private Ocean Terminal property out of business? It just not feasible to pay the developer for its lost. And the waterfront promenade is world famous, I don't think the government is stupid enough to destroy the greatest attraction.

What I am afraid is once the TST ferry bus terminus is moved from where it is to TSTE, it's gonna hurt the Star Ferry even further and possible in a threat of run out of business.
 

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I think the claim that China wants colonial buildings gone is exaggerated. As hkskyline said, major mainland cities are full of them, preserved in their original glory. Look at the Shanghai Bund!
 

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I think the claim that China wants colonial buildings gone is exaggerated. As hkskyline said, major mainland cities are full of them, preserved in their original glory. Look at the Shanghai Bund!
Not just in the mainland. In HK alone, it isn't even arguable. If the Central/HK Government wanted to take away everything single piece of colonial history. How many roads, schools, parks, trails, hospitals etc have to change names, too?

Just some quick examples:
King's Road, Queen's Road, Victoria Harbour, Victoria Park, Queen's Mary Hospital......
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Activists to turn attention to reforming preservation system
27 August 2007
South China Morning Post

Activists from Local Action have decided not to appeal against the ruling over the fate of Queen's Pier because of the "unbearable financial risk". Instead, they will shift their focus to reforming the heritage preservation system.

"Although we could still debate this case on legal grounds, we would need to bear an unbearable financial risk because the chance of getting legal aid to pursue the case is very bleak," Chu Hoi-dick and Ho Loy of Local Action said in a statement yesterday.

The group will now try to "reform the current heritage preservation system; in particular, to change the current shortcoming about the excessive power of the Antiquities Authority chief".

On August 10, High Court Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon declared lawful former home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping's decision against granting monument status to Queen's Pier. This ruling cleared the way for not only its demolition, but also the final stage of the Central reclamation project, which began 10 years ago.

Speaking after the judgment, the activists - who initiated the judicial review of Dr Ho's decision - said they were disappointed the judgment did not mention the need to review a "seriously outdated and flawed" ordinance on heritage conservation and were discussing with their lawyers the possibility of an appeal.

Local Action's legal representative had earlier argued that Dr Ho, who was then the Antiquities Authority, acted improperly by not adopting the May recommendation of the Antiquities Advisory Board to grant the pier Grade I status. The guidelines state that every effort should be made to preserve Grade I structures.

Yet Justice Lam said in his ruling that the power and the discretion to declare a building a monument belonged to the authority under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance.

Members of Local Action camped at the pier for three months until the August 1 deadline for clearing the pier before demolition proceeded.

"We failed to save the pier, but we've gained the public echo on preserving the public space," said Ip Lam-chong, another Local Action member.

"Hongkongers are much more concerned about the demolition of historical architecture and public space than before."

Meanwhile, a team of engineers and activists will be formed to monitor the demolition of Queen's Pier. Mr Ip said they were worried components of the historic structure would be damaged while it was being dismantled.

"We urge government to replace the barriers around the site with transparent plastic hoardings so the public can see what's happening," he said.
 
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