From enrolling children into elite schools and snapping up new mobile phones, Hongkongers are known for their penchant for joining queues for almost anything. But the rush to visit the Museum of History this month before it undergoes a major facelift reflects a deeper complex.
Nostalgia aside, people are worried that the city’s past may be selectively played down or removed from history. Indeed, the anxiety prevails on a wider scale, with many wondering how
the “Hong Kong Story” in real life will unfold under “one country, two systems”.
The public can be excused for being sceptical when a permanent showcase of history requires an“update” after just a 19-year stint. Coming after a series of political shock waves, the HK$466 million revamp looks even more intriguing.
The exhibition currently spans from ancient times to the city’s reunification with China. It has been reported that the makeover will expand beyond 1997, taking on the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2003, the Occupy protests in 2014 and more.
But there are concerns that the new display will also play up positive developments under Chinese rule at the expense of colonial history and some politically sensitive episodes, such as the 1967 riots and the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in 1989. The anxiety is understandable.
Increasingly, there has been an impression that what used to be acceptable may become politically incorrect and require rectification.
Museum revamps are not unusual. But history cannot be rewritten or whitewashed. Even the darkest chapters deserve a place, as the museum section on the Japanese occupation rightly shows. It is important that the authorities remain truthful to history, which is no longer dictated by those in power.
Telling a good story in a museum is one thing. To live the story you want to tell is another. A city that glosses over its past can hardly face the future with confidence. Only by presenting a truthful account of the city’s ups and downs will the government find itself on the right side of history.
More importantly, it should work closely with the people to continue our story – good, bad or otherwise.
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