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Accepted Paper:

Remembering the Colonial Past in Contemporary Hong Kong: An Examination of Government and Vernacular Museums  
Sonia Lam-Knott (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how contemporary Hong Kong museums, differentiated between those established by the government and by grassroots actors, respectively portray the city's colonial and Chinese pasts. Of interest are the political (and to an extent, commercial) concerns driving such processes.

Paper long abstract:

The 1997 transfer of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty was described as a 'handover' within the international community, but was framed as 'wuigwai' ('return') by the Chinese and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) governments. This reference of a 'return' is predicated on these governments' view that the territory has always historically been a part of the Chinese nation, a narrative that the SAR administration reinforces through its museums. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Hong Kong, this paper illustrates how the government-managed Museum of History encourages the remembrance of the city's colonial experience as a momentary interruption of its encompassing and temporally-extensive Chinese heritage. Yet this official historical discourse is challenged by the vernacular domain, who have recently come to establish their own museums, as exemplified by the House of Stories and Mei Ho House. Managed by grassroots actors and social enterprises, these museums celebrate the remembrance of quotidian and personal memories from Hong Kong's colonial era, positioning the city as apart from (as opposed to a part of) the Chinese nation. This paper compares the different Hong Kong histories projected within government and vernacular museums, the methods in which these pasts are presented, and articulates the political processes behind such portrayals. It suggests that whilst the SAR government downplays Hong Kong's colonial past for nation-building purposes, vernacular emphasise on 'the colonial' are driven by identitarian concerns, but also by commercial practicalities to ensure their survival. The problems these considerations pose for these museums will be reviewed.

Panel P037
Museums as contested terrains: Memory work and politics of representation in Greater China
  Session 1 Sunday 3 June, 2018, -