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Traley Chau, Development Bureau (Secretariat Press Office) of Hong Kong Antiquities and Monuments Office

Traley Chau, Development Bureau (Secretariat Press Office) of Hong Kong Antiquities and Monuments Office speaks about the new awareness of Hong Kong citizens for their heritage and the need to preservation in Hong Kong today.

Hong Kong has seen the most dramatic changes over the last 50 years in its urban landscape. Does Hong Kong today feel that the scope of destruction in the past has conducted to a loss of identity for the territory?

Traley Chau – The maturity of a society is measured not just by its economic achievement but also by its appreciation of its own culture and history along with its unique character and living experience. Over the years, many of our buildings with historic significance were demolished to make way for newer constructions. Some of these constructions were probably necessary to provide infrastructures and public facilities. However, in recent years there have been higher public expectations on the Government to preserve our built heritage. Indeed, it is to be expected that a mature and advanced society such as ours should become more aware of its historic legacy, and seek to devote resources for its conservation. It has become the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government’s policy objective to strike a proper balance between the development needs of a modern metropolis and the demands for heritage conservation.

Is there today a Hong Kong consciousness developing about heritage preservation? Do people change their mind in front of historical buildings?

T.C. – In recent years, Hong Kong people have expressed a passion for the city’s historic past and in light of this, the Government has been pressing ahead with its heritage conservation work in accordance with the heritage conservation policy statement promulgated in 2007. That policy statement states: “to protect, conserve and revitalise as appropriate historical and heritage sites and buildings through relevant and sustainable approaches for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. In implementing this policy, due regard should be given to development needs in the public interest, respect for private property rights, budgetary considerations, cross-sector collaboration and active engagement of stakeholders and the general public.”

How many people do visit every year heritage buildings? Is there a demand for this kind of tourism/culture activity?

T.C.– In fact, in order to meet the increasing public expectation and awareness on heritage conservation, the Government has organised a series of publicity and public education activities targeting different sectors of the community. These activities include the heritage tourism expo to showcase our rich built heritage throughout our territory (including the Hong Kong International Airport), Beijing and Macao; we published a booklet “Notes of a Heritage Visitor” introducing heritage tour routes which have been distributed free of charge and uploaded onto our website under ; and selected suitable historic buildings for public access and guided tours under the Heritage Fiesta website. In December 2012, “Heritage Fiesta 2012” featured three selected routes, which attracted 122 808 visitors.

What are the current projects to restore or preserve what remains, especially in terms of colonial heritage? Does Hong Kong feel that its last colonial buildings are also part of its own identity or not?

T.C.– Restoration and maintenance programmes at the following historic buildings are now being undertaken by the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO): 1) Tang Ancestral Hall, Ha Tsuen, Yuen Long; 2) Yan Tun Kong Study Hall, Ping Shan; 3) Lo Wai, Lung Yeuk Tau; 4) St. John’s Cathedral; 5) Tai Fu Tai Mansion, San Tin; 6) Tat Tak Communal Hall, Yuen Long; 7) Man Lun Fung Ancestral Hall; 8) Tang Kwong U Ancestral Hall, Kam Tin, Yuen Long; 9) Maryknoll Convent School; and 10) Kun Lung Wai entrance gate house and enclosing wall. Item 4 is an Anglican church completed in 1849.

In fact, Hong Kong people recognise that heritage bears witness to the development of our city and is a valuable and unique asset of our community. They  are now quite a number of monuments and graded historic buildings in Hong Kong which are buildings built when Hong Kong was a colony. These buildings include the Government House, the Cenotaph and the Flagstaff House.

Are they plan to eventually rebuild destroyed old structures? I heard that a couple of years ago, they were talks of rebuilding the Hong Kong Club. Are they still any plans today from similar essence?

T.C. – Rebuilding destroyed old structures is not a commonly acceptable conservation approach. Besides, not all buildings can be rebuilt and the feasibility is subject to the construction method and materials of individual buildings.

What are the plans to make your heritage trails easier to follow. Signs for houses, a special bus route, the opening of more historical properties to visit (such as the former Governor’s Residence)?

T.C. – Sufficient publicity is considered essential to make public access and guided tours to historic buildings successful. We have been selecting and will continue to select suitable historic buildings for public access and guided tours under the publicity event- Heritage Fiesta. Detailed information of some major heritage trails in Hong Kong launched by AMO and other organisations can also be obtained on internet.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.