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Public participation in built heritage conservation

Heritage Fiesta 2013 is now under way. This year, to tie in with the theme of “Heritage of Education” chosen for the 2013 International Day for Monuments and Sites by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, we have taken on the theme of historic school buildings in Hong Kong that are either declared monuments or graded buildings. In September and October, 17 school buildings in Western architectural styles and 13 traditional Chinese study halls will be open for public visits.

Early last week, the Commissioner for Heritage’s Office of the Development Bureau held the Heritage Fiesta 2013 Opening Ceremony cum Photo Exhibition at Pacific Place in Admiralty. If you are interested in Heritage Fiesta 2013, you can download the information booklet from www.heritage.gov.hk/doc/whatsnew/heritage_fiesta_2013_pamphlet.pdf and visit the historic buildings during the weekends or in your leisure time. You may also join the free guided tours organised by individual schools and study halls, and collect their specially designed chops featuring beautiful historic buildings as mementos of the visits.

The rich history of Hong Kong has left us a legacy of buildings with unique characteristics and styles. Some of these historic buildings have been declared as monuments after assessment and grading. In this year’s Heritage Fiesta, all the historic school buildings and study halls, some restored and revitalised earlier, feature distinctive characteristics and styles. By visiting these buildings, you will get to know about the architectural and historical development of school buildings in Hong Kong. Now, let me briefly introduce some marvellous examples of historic school buildings here in the territory.

The Heritage Fiesta features 17 schools this year. Let us start with Bethanie on Pok Fu Lam Road on Hong Kong Island. Bethanie, built by the Société des Missions Étrangères in 1875, served not only as a sanatorium for sick missionaries, but also as a base for the French Catholic missionary work in East Asia. After its closure in 1974, the building was first leased to the University of Hong Kong and later to the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts as the School of Film and Television since 2003. The building is in the neo-gothic style, with prominent architectural features such as pointed lancet windows as well as arched colonnades and verandahs.

Now let us turn to Kowloon. The Main Building of Diocesan Boys’ School on Argyle Street in Mong Kok is in the Italianate style rarely seen in Hong Kong. The school was originally located on Hong Kong Island and Dr Sun Yat-sen received education there in 1883. The school later moved to its present site in Mong Kok in 1926.

Hong Kong Adventist College, located at Clearwater Bay Road in Sai Kung in the New Territories, is composed of five old buildings, namely the Administration Block constructed in red bricks, the Staff and Teaching Building in the “streamlining” art deco style of the 1930s, the Boys’ Dormitory in the stripped-down neo-classical art deco style, and two Staff Quarters in the neo-classical style.

As regards the 13 study halls being showcased this year, they are all located in the New Territories or on outlying islands. They were built not only for providing traditional education and preparing students for the imperial examination, but also for clansmen to commemorate their ancestors.

Study halls which offered traditional education in the past include the Hum Ying Study Hall at So Kwun Wat Tsuen, Tuen Mun; the Ng Fui Study Hall at Pak Sha Tsuen, Shap Pat Heung, Yuen Long; the Shi Wang Study Hall at San Wai, Ha Tsuen, Yuen Long; and the Tsz Tak Study Hall at Fan Ling Wai, Fanling. They once provided modern primary education for children, and some of the buildings are now being used as meeting places for local villagers.

During the Qing dynasty, young clansmen in Hong Kong also attended the imperial examination in the hope of achieving success and bringing glory to the clan. The Kang Yung Study Hall at Sheung Wo Hang, Sha Tau Kok, was built by the Li clan in the early Qing dynasty to prepare students for the imperial examination. It was rebuilt during the reign of Qianlong and was renamed Kang Yung School after the examination was abolished.

The restoration project of King Law Ka Shuk at Tai Po Tau Tsuen, Tai Po, won the Award of Merit of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2001. King Law Ka Shuk was built in the Ming dynasty by Tang Yuen-wan, Tang Mui-kai and Tang Nim-fung, the 13th generation ancestors of the Tang clan, to commemorate their 10th generation ancestor Tang King-law. In addition to being the ancestral hall of the Tang clan at Tai Po Tau, it was once used as a study hall. In the early to mid-20th century, it was also used as the school building of the Kai Chi School until 1953. The study hall is now a venue for the Tang clansmen to gather and hold traditional festive events.

Originally a side programme of the International Conference on Heritage Conservation 2011, the Heritage Fiesta has now entered its third year and has been well received by both the local community and overseas tourists since it was launched. Through organising such public education activities, we hope that the public will better understand the close relationship between heritage conservation and our daily lives, and will gain an insight into the Government’s work on heritage conservation through their participation in the activities.

As mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, we are working with the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) on the review of the policy on built heritage conservation. The AAB has set up two working groups to carry out in-depth discussions of the policy and strategy regarding heritage conservation as well as the technical aspects. The two working groups have held a number of meetings and are now meeting with various stakeholders, including members of the Legislative Council and the District Councils, representatives of relevant professional organisations and interest groups, and owners of historic buildings, so as to collect their views on various topics related to heritage conservation. Through the review, I hope that the community will have a more thorough exchange of views on our heritage conservation policy. I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the AAB for dedicating their valuable time and energy to the review over the past few months. I believe that the AAB will continue with its good work and we, together, will take forward the heritage conservation work in Hong Kong.

Lastly, you are all welcome to join us at the Heritage Fiesta 2013, details of which are provided at the following link:

15 September, 2013