Things behind the Lion Dance in Hong Kong

As most of my foreign friends know, I come from Macau. But actually I am a new immigrant in Macau, I only lived in Macau for almost five years. Before moving to Macau, I learnt about Macau from TV, mostly from TVB, a Hong Kong’s television station. People usually mirror Macau to Hong Kong, because there are some similarities between two cities. They were both last European colonies in China. People there speak Cantonese. They are both special administrative regions (S.A.R.) of China. And both places are two of the most densely populated regions in the world.

After moving to Macau, having learnt about its history and heritage, I find that it is not justice to simply draw an analogy between Hong Kong and Macau. Both places are unique and the societies function differently. So when I came across this news articleLion dancing: history, traditions and its special place in Hong Kong culture explained” from South China Morning Post this week, the heritage professional instinct calls. Why does the author emphasize the lion dancing in Hong Kong culture? Are there any specials about the lion dancing in Hong Kong? How do Hong Kong people feel about the lion dancing? And etc.

Being a Cantonese and growing up in Guangdong province, I am no stranger to the lion dancing. The lion dancing is usually performed during Chinese New Year and some festivals. Some businesses will also invite the lion dancing performers to perform on their grand opening. Because Chinese culture considers the performance of lion dancing in a lion costume has auspicious meaning and brings good luck and fortune. The lion dancing is also popular in overseas Chinese communities. We can also see the lion dancing in the Netherlands, of course it is easier to find it on Chinese New Year! The lion dancing is common in Chinese communities. Going back to my research questions, why does the author write about the lion dancing as a special place in the Hong Kong culture?

One of the differences between Hong Kong and Macau is that the civil and political debates are more intense in Hong Kong than Macau and in Hong Kong these debates are usually high-profiled, especially after the Umbrella Movement in 2014. The movement is a political democratic protest, which started with a proposal to reform the Hong Kong electoral system. Initially, I just thought people in Macau are nicer and friendlier and they don’t like complicated things, like politics. This is just my superficial observation. But Hong Kong’s scholars Yuk Wah Chan and Vivian P. Y. Lee of heritage studies provide a deeper angle for me to understand the differences. Prior to the handover of Hong Kong sovereignty to China in 1997, the British government and the Chinese government did not negotiate much about preservation of heritage buildings in Hong Kong. The British government had more economic interests than heritage in Hong Kong. Whereas in the case of Macau, the Portuguese government emphasised preserving heritage buildings in Macau after the Handover in 1999. The Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) of Hong Kong at that time did not have much power. The AMO was responsible to evaluate the historic buildings.

After 1997, the Hong Kong public called for the conservation of the pre-1997 buildings as their ‘collective memory’ and local heritage. As I mentioned before Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. Space is limited. In 2007 the Hong Kong government set up an office called The Commissioner for Heritage’s Office (文物保育專員辦事處 CHO), but it was established under the Development Bureau (DB). The CHO could not and would not disregard the need of development in Hong Kong when it made the heritage policy. The provision of the CHO is land space for urban development. It is hard for the CHO to play a proactive role in envisioning the ‘cultural needs’ of Hong Kong. The interviewer of the lion dancing news also mentioned the space problem in Hong Kong. He says there is not many room for them to practice. Because the performance is noisy, it is hard for them to find a place that would not disturb people.

Chan and Lee’s article also mentions there is no cultural bureau dealing with Hong Kong’s overall cultural governance and development. And the government does not have a cohesive mechanism for heritage management and preservation in Hong Kong. They also states that the Hong Kong government evades the pivotal issue of local identity and the quest for the recognition of the unique history and position of Hong Kong. However in Macau, the Cultural Bureau was established before 1999, and it helped Macau’s historic centre list as UNESCO heritage list in 2005. The cultural governance in Macau in this sense establish Macau local identity.

Chan and Lee conclude their article as

“Hong Kong population would like to see Hong Kong continue to thrive as a global city that stands out from its peers in China with its own distinctive culture and qualities. Hong Kong people treasure Hong Kong’s unique history and culture and would like to see its idiosyncratic way of connecting to China and to the world continue in the long run.”

As far as I concerned, the lion dancing, as a Chinese tradition, has a long history in Hong Kong as well. It can be a bridge to connect to China and build up its local identity.

 

Reference:
  1. Vincent Ho, “Casino Multiculturalism and the Reinvention of Heritage in Macao” in Worlding Multiculturalisms: The Politics of Inter-Asian Dwelling, ed. Daniel P.S. Goh (New York: Routledge, 2015), 129-142.
  2. Yuk Wah Chan & Vivian P. Y. Lee, “Postcolonial cultural governance: a study of heritage management in post-1997 Hong Kong,” in International Journal of Heritage Studies, 23.3 (2017), 275-287.
  3. Laurie Chen, “Lion dancing: history, traditions and its special place in Hong Kong culture explained,” in South China Morning Post, 12 March 2018, http://www.scmp.com/culture/arts entertainment/article/2136591/lion-dancing-history-traditions-and-its-special-place (accessd on 21 March 2018).
  4. Picture from Su Hanchen (苏汉臣, 1094―1172) “One Hundred Children Playing in the Spring” (百子嬉春图页) via Wikipedia. The painting depicts children performing the lion dance.

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