Face Off: is Hong Kong a cultural desert?

Face Off: is Hong Kong a cultural desert?

Each week, two of our readers will debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week’s topic is ...

Tacye Hong, 19, University of Toronto, Canada

As a proud bookworm, I believe that culture stems from having a passion for books. Books give us knowledge that can help us understand and appreciate the arts, music and other sophisticated pursuits. It is telling, then, that Page One, one of the largest English bookstores in the city, recently went out of business. One of the main reasons that it failed to make a profit is that most people in Hong Kong do not really read, not to mention buy, books.

It’s worth noting that more than a million people went to the annual Book Fair this year, but unfortunately, most of them only went because it is a popular event. What’s more, many people, especially parents, go there because they can buy exercise books for their children at a much lower price.

Another way our society could encourage people to pursue culture is through museums. In the past, the admission fees to our museums were quite cheap, but not many people went. And even though the government made all five museums free to Hongkongers, they didn’t attract many visitors. Many overseas museums charge high entrance fees but always have a decent number of visitors. But most people in Hong Kong go to museums only if there is a special exhibition or event. This proves that Hong Kong is a cultural desert.

You may say that we have the Clockenflap music festival. But remember, most of the performers come from foreign countries. The audience only wants to enjoy the music and have a good time, rather than cultivate their passion for culture.

Most importantly, many Hong Kong parents encourage their children to take subjects such as chemistry, physics, economics, or accounting instead of, for example, fine art or music.

The Advanced Level examination for Chinese language and culture used to teach students some Confucian ideas and other cultural issues, but the DSE Chinese syllabus only focuses on language and exam skills. It’s not surprising that Hong Kong is called a cultural desert if the city’s education system does not give the issue the proper focus it deserves.

Most Hongkongers like to jump on bandwagons, and this mentality certainly does not help promote culture in the long run. A passion for
arts and culture is not a one-day thing. It takes time to nurture one’s desire and taste for culture. In a city like Hong Kong where everyone is so busy and focused on their work or studies, not many people have the luxury to afford the work-life balance that they deserve, or take an interest in culture.


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Joshua Lee, 18, Cardiff University, Britain

Hong Kong was once considered a ghost-town in terms of its arts and culture. However, we have had big improvements in both the support and facilities for the creative sector, and the city’s arts scene is a vibrant and thriving industry.

Every year many cultural activities take place across Hong Kong. Major events such as the Clockenflap music festival feature both international and local artists, attracting tens of thousands of people and nurturing the local music scene.

The Hong Kong International Film Festival brings Hong Kong and Asian movies to the world, while showing high-quality films from around the globe.

Many people complain about the lack of appropriate venues and facilities for culture, but in recent years many new spaces have opened up, such as the PMQ arts space in Sheung Wan, where local artists and creative industries can display their works. In addition, the Hong Kong Museum of Art in Tsim Sha Tsui is undergoing a major expansion that will increase its exhibition space by 40 per cent.

While the West Kowloon Cultural District’s main facilities, including the M+ art gallery, won’t be finished for several years, many cultural events are already being held there.

What’s more, during the 2014 Occupy Central movement, hundreds of art pieces were created by the protesters, including paintings, songs and even sculptures. Many public places like MTR stations also feature artworks, giving people the opportunity to showcase their talents.

Hongkongers have also come to accept graffiti art, and you can see pieces from French street artist Invader across the city.

With such a diverse range of culture, and a thriving arts scene, it would be very hard to describe Hong Kong as a “cultural desert”.

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