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LCQ2: Intangible Cultural Heritage

     Following is a question by the Hon Yiu Si-wing and a reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (December 2):


     The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (the Convention) was extended to Hong Kong in 2004. In the middle of last year, the Government promulgated the first local intangible cultural heritage (ICH) inventory, which covered 480 items. It is stated in the Policy Address this year that, to enhance the protection of ICH, the Government will strengthen such work as identification, documentation, research, preservation, promotion and transmission of the heritage. A representative list of ICH will also be drawn up to accord priority to the protection of those ICH items which have high cultural value and require urgent preservation. It is learnt that the authorities plan to set up a dedicated office with an annual funding of $10 million for taking forward the work on safeguarding and promoting ICH.  However, some community groups have relayed to me that while the Convention has been extended to Hong Kong for over 10 years and quite a number of items have been included into the ICH inventory, the relevant preservation work has yet to be carried out and the promotion of ICH has been progressing slowly. They consider that the Government should provide resources for the relevant community groups to facilitate the collaboration between the Government and the community in safeguarding and promoting ICH. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the progress of the authorities' initiatives in safeguarding and promoting ICH in the past five years; the ICH items which have high cultural value and require urgent preservation, and the more noticeable results achieved by the authorities in safeguarding such items;

(2) of the manpower resources allocated by the authorities for promoting ICH in the past five years and the expenditure incurred, and among such expenditure, of the amount of expenditure incurred in subsidising community groups to undertake relevant projects; whether the authorities have plans to expand their collaboration with community groups in the coming five years to proceed with the work to secure the transmission of ICH; if they have such plans, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether the authorities will consider setting up a dedicated fund for the purpose of enhancing and strengthening the work on the promotion and transmission of ICH; if they will, of the objectives and the details; if not, the reasons for that?


     Attaching great importance to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage (ICH), the HKSAR Government has been striving to enhance public understanding of ICH, hence their awareness of safeguarding such cultural resources. My reply to Hon Yiu's questions is as follows:

(1) As defined under the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (the Convention) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, measures for safeguarding ICH are multifold, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission and revitalisation. All such areas are covered by the HKSAR Government's safeguarding initiatives of ICH.

     As regards the foundation initiatives in the identification, documentation and research, the HKSAR Government commenced in 2009 its first ICH survey covering around 800 items. Subsequent to the consultation with the Intangible Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee and the public, the first local ICH inventory containing 480 items was formally announced in June 2014. Later in December that year, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) launched a preliminary Hong Kong ICH Database for online public access to the basic information of such inventory items.

     As a result of the three applications submitted by the HKSAR Government to the Ministry of Culture of China, ten local ICH items of high cultural value were successfully inscribed onto the national list of ICH, thereby confirming their historical and cultural value. The ten items include Cantonese opera, herbal tea, the Cheung Chau Jiao Festival, the Tai O dragon boat water parade, the Yu Lan Ghost Festival of the Hong Kong Chiu Chow community, the Tai Hang fire dragon dance, the arts of the Guqin, the Quanzhen temples Taoist ritual music, the Hakka unicorn dance in Hang Hau, Sai King, and the Wong Tai Sin belief and customs.  Cantonese opera has even become a world ICH item in 2009.

     All the above ten national ICH items are under priority protection and promotion of the HKSAR Government. Both the Hong Kong Museum of History and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (HKHM) have collected numerous artefacts related to these ten ICH items. The HKHM, in particular, possesses a wealth of some 30,000 Cantonese opera items, including documentary items of Cantonese opera as well as costumes and stage performance items donated by renowned Cantonese opera artists. Apart from housing a permanent gallery for Cantonese opera, the HKHM has also organised exhibitions on other ICH items, such as "The Legend of Silk and Wood: A Hong Kong Qin Story" exhibition about the arts of the Guqin, held in collaboration with the Choi Chang Sau Qin Making Society in 2013.

     The HKSAR Government endeavours to promote initiatives on Cantonese opera, including providing venue support for Cantonese opera troupes (such as revitalisation of the Yau Ma Tei Theatre as a dedicated venue for Cantonese opera and other forms of Chinese opera, development of a new wing at the Ko Shan Theatre giving priority use for Cantonese opera performances, and construction of the Xiqu Centre in the West Kowloon Cultural District), subsidising performances by young talents, arranging the staging of new plays as well as organising Cantonese opera education and promotion activities such as the annual Cantonese Opera Day. The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) has also established the Cantonese Opera Development Fund (CODF) to provide dedicated funding for the preservation, research, promotion and development of Cantonese opera.
     To set priorities for the implementation of safeguarding measures for ICH, we are conducting in-depth studies and assessments on individual items of the ICH inventory and will subsequently select representative items for drawing up the first representative list of local ICH, which is expected to be completed within 2016.

     In fact, with devoted efforts of the HKSAR Government and relevant organisations and bodies, the community has shown greater interest in and deeper understanding of local ICH, in particular items which are on the world or national ICH list. For example, the Tai Hang fire dragon dance and the Cheung Chau Jiao Festival have attracted numerous visitors from home and abroad in recent years.

(2) Since the implementation of the Convention in 2006, the HKSAR Government has allocated considerable resources for initiatives on the protection and promotion of ICH. In that same year, the Intangible Cultural Heritage Unit (ICHU) was set up under the HKHM of the LCSD for such work as survey, research, exhibition, publicity, education and promotion.

     From 2010-11 to 2014-15, the total expenditure incurred by the ICHU for the protection and promotion of ICH was $27.2 million. In May this year, the LCSD, for the purpose of intensifying the safeguarding of ICH, upgraded the ICHU to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Office (ICHO), a dedicated office with the addition of six newly created posts.

     Education and promotion activities have continued to be one of the major tasks of the ICHO. In the past five years, the LCSD organised, apart from exhibitions, various promotion activities including public talks, seminars, workshops, bearer demonstrations, book publication, and a number of site visits and guided tours arranged for experts to take participants to ICH venues in different districts. Meanwhile, the ICHO is planning to set up a resource centre at the Sam Tung Uk Museum, Tsuen Wan and to organise ICH exhibitions therein on a regular basis. The resource centre is expected to open in mid-2016.
     In broad terms, ICH refers to cultural traditions, knowledge and skills of folk origin, being passed down through generations and inseparable from public daily lives. Transmission of ICH requires joint participation by individuals, groups and our society. To this end, we will, in our way forward, work with community groups and leverage on their strengths for enhanced promotion and transmission of ICH. In fact, many community groups have been proactively participating in ICH-related activities, and the ICHO has been co-organised promotion activities with community groups from time to time.
(3) The CODF was established by the HAB in 2005. In the past five years, major events subsidised by the CODF include the Yau Ma Tei Theatre Venue Partnership Scheme and the Hong Kong New Talent Cantonese Opera Troupe Three Year Grant Scheme to provide young talents with numerous performance and training opportunities, thereby facilitating transmission of the arts form. In addition, the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust subsidises activities and researches on the safeguarding of local heritage every year. Many of such projects are related to the preservation and promotion of ICH by community groups. Looking forward, we will continue to proactively examine various strategies for enhancing the protection of ICH. In the long run, we cannot count solely on the Government's financial support and human resources for the safeguarding of ICH. We will work hand in hand with various sectors of the community and related bodies to sustain the efforts in safeguarding ICH.
     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:44


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