"Heritage Over a Century: Tung Wah Museum and Heritage Conservation" exhibition
Since its founding in the late 19th century, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (TWGHs) has been offering a range of medical, educational, community, traditional and cultural services such as temple and ritualistic services. It has borne witness to the change of society and time. Given that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the TWGHs, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) and the TWGHs have jointly organised the "Heritage Over a Century: Tung Wah Museum and Heritage Conservation" exhibition. More than 70 valuable exhibits are showcased to introduce the work of the TWGHs in the conservation of local history, culture and built heritage, as well as its historical imprints of growing in tandem with Hong Kong society. This time, I have invited the Chairman of the TWGHs, Ms MAN Wing-yee, Ginny, and the Curator (Historical Buildings) of the AMO, Mr NG Chi-wo, to take us on a tour of this themed exhibition.
Revitalisation of the old main hall into a museum
The TWGHs has a long history. Tung Wah Hospital was established in 1870 as the first Chinese hospital in Hong Kong. Subsequently, for the convenience of the members of the public living in Kowloon and the New Territories seeking medical services, the first hospital in Kowloon – Kwong Wah Hospital – was established in 1911. The Chairman of the TWGHs, Ms Ginny MAN, says that, during the centenary of the TWGHs in 1970, the old main hall of Kwong Wah Hospital was converted into the Tung Wah Museum for conserving and passing on Tung Wah's institutional heritage and archives. This exhibition showcases many historic relics and records stored in the museum. It turned out that 50 years ago, there was already a conservation approach in place for revitalising historic buildings, which was very avant-garde at that time.
Showcasing relics and records of more than a hundred years
The Curator (Historical Buildings) of the AMO, Mr NG Chi-wo, introduces many valuable exhibits including a plaque, which was engraved with the characters “廣華醫院 (Kwong Wah Hospital)”, hung at the main entrance of the main hall of Kwong Wah Hospital since 1911. Kwong Wah Hospital opened to the public on 9 October 1911, so it might be the last building opened in the Qing dynasty. The exhibition also showcases furniture pieces that have been placed at the main hall of the hospital since 1911. The setting is based on the original layout with all the antique furniture pieces being more than 100 years old, which were donated by the then famous Chinese merchants and Nam Pak Hongs. Among them is the table where five offering containers are placed, which bears an inscription marking the third year of the Xuantong (宣統三年) reign (1911).
Exhibits demonstrating early medical and social development
Moreover, exhibits such as Kwong Wah Hospital admission records, the hospital incorporation ordinance, the glass milk bottle printed with the characters “東華三院 (the TWGHs)” and the rental tariff timber of Tung Wah Coffin Home are important materials for studying the early medical and social development of Hong Kong. The Chairman, Ms Ginny MAN shows us a special exhibit – a letter written by a donor who called herself “little woman” in 1922. Seeing that Kwong Wah Hospital offered only free Chinese medicine consultation but not free medicine, the little woman wrote a letter imploring the hospital to provide free Chinese medicine. She also made a number of donations. Directors of the Tung Wah Hospital were deeply moved and appealed for further donations from the community. Eventually, shop premises were purchased with the donations collected from the community and those from the little woman. The rental income derived therefrom was used to subsidise the hospital’s expenses in providing patients with free Chinese medication.
Managing 11 historic buildings
The TWGHs, one of the AMO’s important partners in heritage conservation, manages 11 historic buildings, including five declared monuments and six graded buildings. Mr NG Chi-wo tells us that two of the TWGHs historic buildings, namely the museum and the Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan, were declared as monuments in 2010. In 2015, the Race Course Fire Memorial in Happy Valley was also declared a monument. This year, the TWGHs further agreed to have two of its Grade 1 buildings – the Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei, and the Tung Wah Coffin Home in Sandy Bay – declared as monuments, making two valuable additions to Hong Kong’s cultural heritage.
Three-dimensional (3D) laser scanning for record
The AMO has also been actively working with the TWGHs to implement heritage conservation work on various fronts. For example, as told by Mr NG Chi-wo, a few years ago, after learning that Kwong Fook I Tsz, built in around the 1850s at Tai Ping Shan Street, had to undergo repairs on the roof, the AMO took the opportunity and deployed its 3D Laser Scanning Survey Sub-unit to scan the Shiwan ceramic figurines on the roof ridge for record. The exhibition also showcases a 3D printout model of the roof ridge of Kwong Fook I Tsz for the public to appreciate the ceramic figurines at close range, which depicts the exquisite details of a scene in a Cantonese opera.
The exhibition of Tung Wah Museum and heritage conservation is being staged at the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre inside Kowloon Park until 23 September. However, due to the severity of the epidemic recently, the centre is temporarily closed. I hope the epidemic will be over soon so that we can go back to our normal life. By then, we could take some time to appreciate the archives and relics of TWGHs, reconstruct the history of Hong Kong with the exhibits, and in particular savour the early development of Chinese society.
19 July, 2020