UK Museum of Hong Kong: Fighting for True History and Cultural Heritage

UK Museum of Hong Kong: Fighting for True History and Cultural Heritage
There was a two-day event in London about Hong Kong’s traditional cafes. (Courtesy of Interviewee)

Hong Kong cafes' cultural history started earlier than in communist China, and the culture that developed did not originate from the mainland; the founder of the Museum of Hong Kong in the UK said at a two-day event (July 9-10) in London about Hong Kong’s traditional cafes.

The event about Hong Kong’s bing-sutts (icehouse cafes) took place in London’s Hackney Chinese Community Services Centre, where the cafes’ unique flavours were reproduced for visitors.

Calvin is the founder of the Museum of Hong Kong in the UK. One of the reasons that motivated him to host the event was the hope of making more Hongkongers aware of the true history of Hong Kong.

He stressed that Hong Kong’s history could be traced back more than 100 years. He cited an example, “ When one reviews history and news reports, bing-sutts existed already during the 1910 era before the first world war. But if one searches the web for information, the conclusion is that bing-sutts were brought from Guangzhou to Hong Kong after the second world war. This conflicts with historical archives. In the 1930s, news reports described bing-sutts as eateries for common people.”

He said many people were led to believe that Hong Kong’s culture was formed after the second world war when there was a large influx of refugees from China, especially from Shanghai, due to persecution by the Chinese Communist Party.

As to why Hong Kong’s local history was overlooked or twisted, Calvin said it was because “some people liked to stress that everything in Hong Kong, big or small, was all closely linked with China. The mainstream saying was the war between the nationalists and communists forced refugees to move to Hong Kong, and these refugees were the makers of Hong Kong’s culture. However, there was a wide gap between this saying and the truth.”

Calvin mentioned “cultural war:” “In the past, Greater China ideals dominated the writings about Hong Kong culture. They prevented Hong Kong culture from being seen as equal to that in places such as Gibraltar, with separate political systems. Under the influence of the “cultural war,” Hong Kong was usually “summed up” as a branch of Chinese culture rather than an independent entity.

Calvin said, “Hong Kong is an independent entity. However, some people try to deliberately belittle Hong Kong culture, while others use the subject to project Chinese culture as a long-standing and distant source. Some people were misled into thinking that Hong Kong’s original culture was interlocked with Chinese history.”

Calvin described the “Hong Kong Soul” as the Hong Kong local culture preserved by Hongkongers, which must be understood when defining Hong Kong culture. “Before 1997, there was a distinct style in Hong Kong’s food, clothing, buildings, transport, entertainment, and businesses, which could only be found in Hong Kong.” His profound belief was that to preserve Hong Kong; it is necessary to define Hong Kong’s culture, language, and identity. However, in this aspect, Hong Kong is still developing.

“All Hong Kong movies and music that we all know by heart were made between the 1960s to 1990s, a glorious period for the territory. No doubt about it.” Calvin said. “Films and music are always the media for interpersonal communication, regardless of place or country. Therefore when one talks about identification, Hong Kong’s film culture and music deserve our full attention.”

The last event hosted by the Museum of Hong Kong was the 9th Hong Kong Festival in Brent, in northwest London, on January 26. The theme of the event was “Celebrating Hong Kong’s Birthday.” There was an exhibition about Hong Kong’s founding, with exhibits, culture, and history.

If Hongkongers want to promote Hong Kong, they’ve first got to know the history of Hong Kong to be able to preserve its heritage, Calvin said.