Hong Kong: Cultural Heritage Conservation in a City of Change – Part 2: The Policy Saga

Architectural Conservation Programme at the University of Hong Kong

Lynne DiStefano and Ho-Yin Lee continued their talk on cultural heritage conservation by givng the policy context in Hong Kong.  They start with the first post-handover administration starting in 1997.


Tung Chee-Hwa was the first post-colonial Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Hong Kong SAR).  Under all of the new policy in the new SAR, there was only one minute line on heritage conservation:

The concept of preserving hertiage is incorporated into our developing our old areas. (paraphrase)

There was a lack of political will and support.  Conservation projects during the first administration did not necessarily have socially relevant purposes.  Some heritage buildings were preserved, but were often converted into other purposes that did not match the original purpose.  According to Lynne and Ho-Yin, these were not socially relevant uses of these sites.

photo by Jerry Crimson Mann
photo by Jerry Crimson Mann

One of the turning points in public opinion with respect to heritage preservation was the renewal of Lee Tung Street (利東街).  This street was well known to all of Hong Kong as “The Wedding Card Street.” All the little shops provided all the props necessary to have a happy and prosperous Chinese wedding.  However, the urban renewal authority had targeted the whole street for renewal.  Many of the shopkeepers were not happy to be pushed out of the area.  There were many protests and banners expressing the unhappiness of the shopkeepers.  The issue seems to still be unresolved at the moment, although many of the shops have already closed.  According to Lynne, there is a law in Hong Kong where if 90% of the people accept the cash offer to move, then the remaining 10% are forced to accept the offer and the project can then go through unobstructed.

photo by Henry Li
photo by Henry Li

Another turning point is the destruction of the Star Ferry pier in Central, Hong Kong (aka. the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, or Queen’s Pier).  The pier along with its iconic clock tower was demolished in December 2006. There was a public outcry that the government had not anticipated.  The pier was a “young” 49 years when it was destroyed and was not considered old enough by the authorities and, therefore, it did not have enough heritage value.


In 2005, a new Chief Executive was selected and a new administration started.  Donald Tsang rose up from the civil servant ranks and became the Chief Executive.  The government was restructed and a new direction in heritage conservation started.

The new direction was less about dead buildings and more about lthe living heritage of established communities that give Hong Kong’s urban experience enchanting qualities.

There was a new political will to support this new direction.  There was now an entire branch of the government devoted to heritage conservation and that branch of the government in charge of heritage conservation.  A Google search turned up a new government website devoted to heritage conservation: Conserve and Revitalise Hong Kong Heritage.  The government seems to be allowing the community to take the lead in conservation now.  They are developing partnership schemes with private companies/investors to create good adaptive reuse of historical buildings.

This new direction is partially inspired by the Hong Kong public.  Lynne and Ho-Yin pointed out that a new identity in Hong Kong has emerged over the past 12 years since the handover.  More and more people identify themselves as Hong Kong and less as Chinese or British colonist.  People are defining themselves as Hong Kongers and conserving Hong Kong’s heritage is part of that self-defining.  There is a change in societal expectations.  Hong Kong used to be a developers dream because there was little opposition to “progress.”  Now people feel that they are losing parts of their lives and speaking out on preserving what they grew up with.  Teachers and parents seem to be taking the lead in mentoring the next generation about Hong Kong’s historical and cultural heritage.

The next post will cover the importance of Intangible Heritage.

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