When Carrie Lim – then-chief secretary of Hong Kong – announced plans in December 2016 to open a miniature Palace Museum in Kowloon in 2022, for exhibiting imperial collections on loan from the Palace Museum of Beijing, she underestimated the locals’ reaction to the news. Here’s why
China’s Palace Museum is an impressive place. Currently located inside the Forbidden City in the mainland capital, Bejing, it contains a huge array of treasures, with only 1% of the collection on display at any given time. It has more visitors per year than any other museum on Earth. What city would not welcome its inestimable treasures and covet the inevitable tourist boom this would provide?
The answer is, almost uniquely, Hong Kong.
Many Hong Kong residents perceive the proposed new museum as an unwelcome attempt by the Chinese mainland to force its culture on them while they are still desperately trying to hold on to democracy and a degree of independence. By taking a piece of the political heart of Beijing and placing it permanently in the middle of Kowloon, this would serve as a reminder to the people of the island of Hong Kong that they belong to mainland China, and should appreciate its treasures and history with nationalistic pride.
To those Hong Kongers who are keen to maintain smooth relations with the mainland, the announcement of this move proved very popular. However, Lim almost certainly alienated those Hong Kong residents who resent the central government’s growing influence and heavy hand in their affairs.
The new museum
Whether people like it or not, on December 23, 2016, the city signed a HK$3.5 billion ($451 million) deal with Beijing to create a replica of the capital’s celebrated Palace Museum at the West Kowloon Cultural District. The project, funded by the Jockey Club, is a highlight of next year’s events to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule and the culmination of close collaboration following an agreement in 2012 between the city and the Palace Museum.
The new Hong Kong Palace Museum will be one of the most exciting facilities. According to a government source, the present policy limits the number of exhibits on loan to 120 items per tour for a maximum period of three months, but the future museum will feature over 1,000 items on display for up to three years at a time, allowing unprecedented visitor access to these important cultural artefacts.
The construction work will begin in late 2017, to be completed in 2022. The museum will occupy around 10,000m² (11,960 sq. yds.), and the construction floor area is estimated at 30,500m² (36,478 sq. yds.). It will house two exhibition galleries, offering space for the permanent display of relics provided by the Palace Museum on a long-term and regular basis. Other facilities will include activity rooms, a 400-seat lecture theatre, souvenir shops and restaurants.
Location in West Kowloon
The museum’s location was chosen to be in West Kowloon because there are core arts and cultural facilities now under construction there, including M+, the project’s museum of modern art, which is expected to open in 2019 and will showcase the best in contemporary art, architecture and design. It also will work well in tandem with Hong Kong’s Palace Museum in showing the world the contrast between modern and traditional Chinese and world art and culture.
With all these planned developments, the opening of the Palace Museum presents a fascinating proposition – hopefully one that Hong Kongers will eventually embrace.