30 June, 2016
The Liberal Art University in Hong Kong
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Prof Lau Chi-pang is known to have deep passion for teaching and preserving Hong Kong’s history. To fulfil his ambition, he recently launched the Jockey Club Hong Kong History Learning Programme and took up the position as Chairman of the newly formed Advisory Committee on Built Heritage Conservation.

During the Occupy Central movement in 2014, Prof Lau Chi-pang, Associate Professor at the Department of History, came to the realisation that the younger generation knew little about Hong Kong’s heritage.

“The Occupy movement was a trigger point for me,” he says. “I saw that these young protestors were talking about current affairs but could not relate current issues with what happened in the past. They lacked historical context.”

The need for greater education about Hong Kong’s history was highly evident to Prof Lau. “We did not have a substantive curriculum for Hong Kong’s history in our primary or secondary schools. Everyone wanted to do it but the problem was that there was no teaching kit or textbooks for delivery in classroom.”

This prompted him to write a proposal for preparing teaching materials on the history of Hong Kong, particularly since the post-war period. It would include the development of teaching kits, seminars, study tours, workshops and mobile exhibitions. All the materials would be available for teachers, free of charge, for download on the Lingnan University website. Topics would cover Hong Kong’s geography, politics, economy, society and culture, among others.

After presenting the proposal to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the Jockey Club Hong Kong History Learning Programme was established on 29 April with a generous donation of HK$14.83 million from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. Prof Lau was named the academic administrator and executive head of the programme.

Interest among primary and secondary schools has already been building. So far, 60 schools have joined the programme, and Prof Lau expects that more will sign on before the start of the next school year.

Tangible symbols of our past

Prof Lau would also like to see more done about preserving the “hardware” side of Hong Kong’s built heritage — the historic buildings that have survived modern development. With his appointment on 22 April as Chairman of the newly formed Advisory Committee on Built Heritage Conservation (ACBHC), he will have the opportunity to fulfil this ambition.

The Committee comprises 14 non-official members and will start out with funding of HK$500 million. In its role, the ACBHC will advise the Government on the operation of the fund while assessing or monitoring restoration projects under the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme. It will also recommend funding for programmes on public education, community involvement and publicity activities, academic research, consultancy and technical studies.

Prof Lau recognises the challenge of such a role. “Hong Kong has a complicated land use situation with limited space to develop,” he says. “Starting in the 1970s, the economy started growing and in the process we got rid of many, many historic buildings, replacing them with high rises.”

He believes that the public only began to fully understand the need for conserving Hong Kong’s historic buildings after the handover in 1997. “People recognised that this city is ours. We underwent a culture change and saw that our historic buildings are part of Hong Kong’s identity.”

Through the Committee, Prof Lau would like to make better use of older buildings that are now standing idle. This will send the message to the public that we cannot cut ourselves off from the past and will give tangible form to our history that young people can see and appreciate.

According to Prof Lau, applicants for funding under the scheme operated by the Committee must be from non-profit organisations, although the specific re-use scenarios for these buildings will be up to the potential operators.

“As a historian I would be very happy to see these buildings conserved,” says Prof Lau. “We normally get in touch with our history through texts. By preserving historic buildings, we can see history as it was in the making. They tell us exactly what people had in mind when they were built and enhance our imagination of our historical past — this is the core value of preserving our historic buildings.”