17 February 2019
Alliance members stage a protest in front of a giant poster of the Palace Museum at the MTR Hong Kong Station. The banner reads, "Mama, I'm hungry but I can't eat”, taken from a student hunger strike in Beijing in 1989. Photo: HKEJ
Alliance members stage a protest in front of a giant poster of the Palace Museum at the MTR Hong Kong Station. The banner reads, "Mama, I'm hungry but I can't eat”, taken from a student hunger strike in Beijing in 1989. Photo: HKEJ

Will Palace Museum become a popular Hong Kong protest site?

The way things are shaping up, the Hong Kong Palace Museum is likely to become one of the city’s key attractions once it opens its doors to the public several years from now.

The museum will house some of the priceless art collections from imperial China which are currently stored in Beijing’s Forbidden City, and, in view of the territory’s highly politically charged atmosphere, it is also likely to be a favorite venue for political rallies, whether by Beijing loyalists or democracy advocates.

The museum has yet to be built, of course. The government intends to conduct a public consultation, although the plan to build it has long been approved.

Still, it would take about four to five years before the museum sees the light of day.

The government, eager to express its thanks to Beijing for allowing such a museum to exhibit Chinese masterpieces of great cultural and historical significance in Hong Kong, has launched an advertising campaign to titillate the Hong Kong public about the project.

One of its advertisements is a giant poster at the MTR Hong Kong Station featuring Beijing’s own Palace Museum.

However, the opposition camp saw the outdoor media exhibition as an opportunity to voice out their advocacies such as building a democratic China and seeking redress for the bloody crackdown on student protesters at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

So while Beijing and the Hong Kong government see the Forbidden City as a repository of China’s rich cultural heritage, some of whose treasures will be lent out to the special administrative region, activitists see it as the site of a grievious wrong committed against the pro-democracy Chinese students nearly three decades ago.

On Monday members of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China staged a protest in front of the huge Palace Museum poster at the MTR station.

In fact, several demonstrations have been staged in front of the billboard since it was put up.

On Saturday afternoon, for example, someone left the print of a bloody hand on the poster, an obvious reminder of the bloody event that took place just opposite the Forbidden City 27 years ago. 

MTR staff immediately cleaned up the defacement.

Stickers depicting Chinese tanks, apparently a reference to the military tanks used to quell the 1989 student protests, were also seen on the handrail belts of conveyors at the station. They, too, were immediately removed.

Apparently, the area in the MTR Station where the Palace Museum billboard has been put up has served as a virtual Tiananmen Square for democracy advocates in Hong Kong.

Instead of going to Beijing to protest and risk arrest, pro-democracy activists have found a venue right here in the city to air their protests against the central government, thanks to the Hong Kong government’s advertisement of the Palace Museum.

So once the museum is finally constructed and opened to the public, activists, whether pro- or anti-Beijing, are likely to see it as a venue to promote their political advocacies.

So the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China will probably hold its June 4 candlelight vigil outside the museum, instead of at Victoria Park or on university campuses.

In the same way, foreseeing all these embarrassing things happening, Beijing may just decide to scrap the entire project.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department reportedly spent HK$1.58 million on the MTR Station exhibit, only to provide a venue for the opposition to stage anti-Beijing protests.

Chow Hung-tung, vice chair of the alliance, said they want the government to present a comprehensive history of China, rather than just focus on the nation’s past glories or Communist Party propaganda.

The decision to build the Palace Museum as part of the West Kowloon Cultural District is another example of how the Hong Kong government pushes forward controversial policies without transparency and adequate public consultation.

As it turned out, the government had been planning for the museum long before Hong Kong and Beijing signed the deal last month.

Said Ada Wong, a member of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority: “I think in public governance these days, there’s a global trend for more participation. Citizens expect a lot. They expect they can influence policy and they expect they can co-create policy with the government. So I do hope that people, in particular young people, can speak out in the forthcoming consultation, and hopefully the finer details of this Palace Museum in Hong Kong could change.” 

The project is likely to play a significant role in the election campaign of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who chairs the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, as she can use it to boost her pro-Beijing credentials and win the support of China’s top leaders for her to succeed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in July.

However, the Palace Museum project is being used by critics to assail Lam for not consulting the public before pushing through with it.

The protests against the project are now directed against Beijing, which, naturally, would not find it amusing if a gift being offered to Hong Kong people was turned into a weapon against its rule.

And that would not reflect positively on Lam, would it?

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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