Policy address makes Hong Kong look third world

Those who once had high hope for Hong Kong’s cultural development are probably once again let down by chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s second policy address. This year’s policy address clearly demonstrates how unimportant culture is to Hong Kong in the eyes of the city’s leaders.

Leung calls for a revival of Innovation and Technology Bureau after the proposal for government restructure was voted down by the Legco in 2012. But what about the Culture Bureau that Leung pledged to set up in his election platform? Hmm...it is not mentioned.

Not only did Culture Bureau vanish, culture plays an insignificant role in policy address. Of the 198 paragraphs, only five paragraphs totalling 332 words (out of some 16,000 total in English) fall under the banner of cultural development and creative industries.

Okay you might say it’s not the number of words but content that matters the most. Now let’s look at the content.

The introductory paragraph (180) clearly states the government’s third world mindset on culture: “cultural and sports activities are part of a quality lifestyle...improve and enhance facilities to provide more favourable conditions for the development of culture, arts and sport in Hong Kong.”

The other paragraphs focus on cultural hardware: updates (that have been reported many times) of construction works at West Kowloon Cultural District, the government taking up the funding responsibility of the integrated basement under at the cultural district, facelift of the Hong Kong Museum of Art (which was already reported last year), and the construction of a new community cultural centre in Ngau Tau Kok. The government injected another HK$300 million into CreateSmart Initiative and is reviewing Film Development Fund.

These are piece meal measures – focusing mostly on hardware -- that fail to address what the cultural community is asking for. For three consecutive days I explored Hong Kong’s cultural expenditure and arts funding mechanism in the SCMP [Nine Hong Kong arts groups in plea to government for increased funding (Jan 13 2014); "Hand cash out to little guys" (Jan 14 2014); 'Big nine' performing arts groups to ignore calls to share government cash (Jan 15 2014)]. The current situation not only reflects how little planning and co-ordination behind these funding measures. Hong Kong is at risk of falling behind from regional players like South Korea and Taipei, which not only heavily invest in cultural development but also place culture on a high level in policy making process, considering it an important tool to generate creativity.

According to the city’s frustrated cultural veterans, what Hong Kong needs is a cultural blueprint that has clear goals and strategies, backed by measures aiming at delivering these goals. These should range from not only funding for the arts, but also education, heritage, cultural identity, creative industries, and even how to apply a cultural perspective on public policy making to come up with creative solutions.

But by looking at this policy address, one couldn’t help but wonder if Hong Kong’s cultural development will ever get there.

Art Basel, posh international galleries, record-breaking art auctions and even the M+ exhibitions might have dressed Hong Kong in the most glamorous ball gown, which is merely a facade. If culture is deemed as merely activities to improve lifestyle and cultural development is represented by the construction of buildings and piecemeal funding, just what can one expect from this city?


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