In late December, the South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam announced a surprise deal with the Chinese government to construct a replica of Beijing’s Palace Museum, the art museum in the Forbidden City housing traditional Chinese dynastic relics, in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD). The announcement has been met with criticism over “lack of public consultation on the project”, and the lack of Legislative Council approval for the HK$3.5 billion deal.
A few days later, the SCMP reported that Michael Lynch, former chief of the WKCD governing authority, was skeptical about the plans:
“It looks like a very powerful delegation going to Beijing to announce something the people of Hong Kong haven’t discussed. It seems to me it is related to politics rather than the overall development plan for West Kowloon.”
Lynch also stated that the Palace replica plans were especially unusual, considering the WKCD was originally intended to be a contemporary and performing arts hub.
The SCMP editorial board then published an article urging readers to embrace the new museum for its cultural and artistic significance, a position buoyed by SCMP pro-Beijing columnist Michael Chugani.
Chugani’s remarks, filled with his signature pro-establishment sentiments, slammed Hong Kong people for failing to appreciate the cultural value of the museum:
“What other society would fume over a new museum that displays priceless relics at no cost whatsoever to the public? But we are a society at war with itself, trapped in a quest for an identity that departs from reality. We are unable to fully come to terms with being a part of China 20 years after it became a fact…I thought Hongkongers would welcome the museum plan. But no. This is what we have become, a society so addicted to political confrontation that we even pick a fight with the bearer of a gift.”
These plans have certainly stirred controversy among politicians and journalists alike. Many, like Lynch, are dubious that the museum replica is a gift given benevolently by Beijing. Rather, the replica may be viewed as a mode through which Beijing can curry favor with the Hong Kong people and assuage growing indignation over the lack of universal suffrage in the upcoming Chief Executive election. Or, perhaps (in a more extreme view), the museum is a ploy by which the Chinese government intends to impose its social and cultural agenda on Hong Kong through displays of historically significant artifacts. Nevertheless, whatever Beijing’s intentions may be, they are ambiguous to many segments of the Hong Kong population.