Cheung Chau Bun Festival: Heritage or Spectacle? 長洲太平清醮: 是旅遊盛事還是文化遺產？
|The bun towers. Photo: Vivienne Chow on Instagram|
To local inhabitants or those who grew up on Cheung Chau, the annual Bun Festival is a love-and-hate occasion. We love it because this traditional festival, during which we pay respect to gods and the nature through eating vegetarian dishes to the parade around the island, plays an important role in our upbringing.
Back in the days before the festival coincides with a public holiday, the festival - the parade - took place during the week. Few from the city knew about us and even if they did, it would be difficult for them to come to Cheung Chau to experience the festival.
But for us, we had two extra school holidays back then. We were very excited as the festival approached. Those who wished to join the festival could do so, whether to be part of the parade as the children flag bearer, or become one of the floats (if your parents have the connection). Those who just wanted to enjoy the parade as spectators after eating three days of vegetarian meals (No meat was sold during the festival period back then. But my mum would stock up some canned meat just in case we wanted to eat meat), or swimming or riding our bicycles. We used to go to our grandma's place to watch the parade - her place had a balcony overlooking the street where the parade would pass by. It was our own little VIP area.
Then later on, the organisers decided to coincide the festival with the Buddha's birthday, which is a public holiday. It suddenly became one of Hong Kong's biggest tourism spectacle. Restaurant and shop owners were delighted by the move, as it brings A LOT of tourists to Cheung Chau, making the festival an important business day on their calendar. But to the islanders, it became the day to escape from the island. If we were not part of the festival programme, we'd either stay at home or go to town to avoid the crowd. The Bun Festival, originally an occasion to bond the local community, became distant to the islanders.
I couldn't help but wonder if it was the right thing to do. Few years ago I wrote a long piece in the South China Morning Post, detailing the pros and cons about turning a cultural heritage into a tourism spectacle. On one hand we need to keep a tradition alive, and making it a tourism attraction is one way - at least it generates income for the island. But on the other the original meaning of such tradition is diluted, distancing itself from the local community where the tradition is rooted.
This is a double-edged sword. I don't have the answer to my question, but how to keep our tradition alive without distorting its original meaning is a serious matter that is worth our time to contemplate.