Today the news broke that Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Palace Museum to develop the Palace Museum Hong Kong at the West Kowloon Cultural District, scheduled to open in 2022. The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust has also committed a generous donation of HK$3.5 billion to support the construction and curatorial work.
As a history buff born and bred in Hong Kong, I voice my strongest opposition to this project.
It simply makes no sense.
For one thing, what does the Forbidden City have to do with Hong Kong? From the architecture of the 600-year old palace, home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing, to the historical significance of its massive collection, little connection can be established with Hong Kong, let alone relevance. If we were trying to cure our notorious apathy towards history by building a new museum, it has to demonstrate or re-present the history of Hong Kong. Certainly it can – and must – be put in the context of Chinese history, but it is too apparent to be explained that it should be something about Hong Kong, and for Hong Kong.
Otherwise, why bother? Why do we build a new museum to present the artefacts of an abandoned palace of the vanished dynasties? Why do we need to repeat the Chinese-centric perspective of history here, when there are plenty of museums doing this around China, including the original Palace Museum? Don't tell me this is meant to be another attraction for high-quality (not necessarily high-spending, mind you) tourists who are interested in culture and history – why should they visit Hong Kong for some historical gems that don't even belong to here? Why can't they just fly to Beijing? Wait. Oh sorry, I forgot, the toxic air.
For another, if more importantly, why are we Hong Kong people funding this project if none of us has been consulted or even informed in advance? While it is still unknown whether the donation of HK$3.5 billion would be sufficient, the sum is arguably more accountable to the people of Hong Kong than tax money. The reason is simple. Too many people from the grassroots who may never earn enough to pay tax have tried their luck with horseracing and Mark Six. They are the direct but nameless contributors to The Hong Kong Jockey Club and its charity branch. When the local population is ageing so fast and the demand for healthcare and welfare services soaring to unseen heights, isn't there any better and wiser way of spending the money?
Indeed, my objection has nothing to do with the cultural and historical value of the Palace Museum's collection. I am only questioning whether it is necessary to build a new museum to house and display something that does not belong to us anyway, but is only made available on loan. It is also questionable whether spending HK$3.5 billion on this project, instead of any other, is a good choice when we are faced with so many challenges and issues. Even if we agree to have another museum, again, why can't it be something about Hong Kong? Why should tourists come all the way here to look at something that is totally irrelevant and unrelated? Even the Mainland Chinese tourists would not be interested, because it deprives them of the pleasure to visit Beijing, where they can let imaginations of imperial life run wild. Take my word.
So, can the Chief Secretary or anyone involved explain to me, as a tax-paying Hong Kong citizen and history lover, why they dump this on the people of Hong Kong without an utter? How dare they do this?