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Cultural Policies in Hong Kong


1950-1980: The Foundation

Cultural policies as tool to portray social stability
The colonial government considered the development of high arts and performing arts to be the best chance in demonstrating to the world (especially to the Chinese government) their ability to provide political and social stability in Hong Kong. Substantially after the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the colonial government argued that the Chinese government was far from stable and strong to take back Hong Kong. The cultural policies of developing performing arts and constructing cultural infrastructures therefore became the bargaining tool for the colonial government to promote their governance efficiency, aiming to keep Hong Kong as their colony. During the 70-80s, the government’s planning and policies were trying to build up a foundation for cultural development with provision of funding, networking and infrastructures. The whole process was mainly dominated by the government, resulting in an exclusive development in high arts to cater for the British’s needs.


1980-1990: Aggressive Policy
Rapid development of Cultural Hardware

The blossoming of local art communities prompted the government to build more physical spaces to hold all these cultural events. Stadiums, coliseums and theatres were built to satisfy the growing local art communities of performing arts. With the new town development maturing, town halls and civic centres were built to provide regional cultural support to local neighbourhoods. The cultural hardware was rapidly developed during the
80s. Although these cultural policies successfully provided Hong Kong with a sound foundation in culture development, the policies mainly favoured the British and ignored the importance of cultural software such as education for the local. With the cultural policies focusing on the development of high arts and performing arts, the cultural needs of the local Hong Kong people (especially the lower class) therefore was failed to address. Therefore, under the influence of the government, Hong Kong still did not establish its own unique cultural character.

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1991-2000: The Interchange

With the belated awakening of cultural policy reform
from public involvement and government initiatives
before 1997 and the political reform for the
centralization of cultural governance by killing the
councils after 1997, 1990s could be concluded as a
period of interchange of cultural, political and
economical development.


2001-2010: The Era of Manipulation and Seeking Identity 

3C1R would be the summary for what the government has achieved in the decades. “C” stands for study of culture software, categorization of creative industry and execution by council establishment; while “R” comes from heritage redevelopment of historical buildings. After the two world-class financial crises, the government realised that Hong Kong should not rely too much upon solely investment or financial industry, but to find a new way to diversify the economic contribution. The creative industry could be one of the cures.

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2011- 2020: The Social Transformation & Branding

This decade is a period of unsettlement, which conflicts in the society intensified and protests became more vigorous. These on one hand have raised self-identity of Hong Kong people and awareness of local art in general, as artwork and expressions were created as propaganda; on the other hand these have created a greater tension between the government and the pro-democracy camp, along with the newly imposed national security law, uncertainty to the freedom in art creation is introduced. At the same time, numerous cultural venues were established, which generally fall into 3 types: megastructures and heritage revitalization by the government, and private or sponsored venues. Despite such efforts, the pandemic in 2020 is detrimental not only to the economy but cultural and travel activities. There is no indication when the COVID-19 will end. 

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Future Development

The social instability and the pandemic has imposed challenges and uncertainty to local art and cultural
projects. Still people have become more concerned with identity and artwork. In the aspect of hardware,
the government has established venues by megastructure and revitalization projects, which can promote cultural tourism; planning proposals are aimed at developing Hong Kong into a more vibrant city. Development and conservation are not opposing forces. We should strike a balance between them. In
recent years, many historical buildings no longer be used, the government’s partnership scheme gave
these buildings a new lease of life for the enjoyment of the public. For the private sectors, they started to
get involved in the cultural industry. Actually their concepts are based on nurturing art and culture as
backbone, then equipping businesses activities such as shopping and catering. It is somehow a
marketing skill for a better corporate image to a large extent. Under many uncertainties such as a fragile economy, pandemic, social conflicts and political issues, the cultural development in Hong Kong is definitely facing a big challenge.

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