Sunday, 30 December 2012

Hardly Antique

The entrance to the Chi Lin Nunnery (taken in December 2008)
One of my favourite recommendations to tourists to Hong Kong is the Chi Lin Nunnery in Diamond Hill.

It's a quiet respite from the busyness of the city, gently encouraging its visitors to slow down, relax and take in the amazing Tang-dynasty architecture and the beautiful Nan Lian Garden across the street.

One can't help but be in awe of the Buddhist temple that was made without a single nail and have some kind of inner reflection, or at least slow down and look around.

A detail of the roof tiles
However, we're quite shocked to find that the Hong Kong government has recommended the nunnery as a Unesco world heritage site when it's only 14 years old.

Apparently local officials bypassed the Antiquities Advisory Board and endorsed the application for mainland counterparts to evaluate the site and hopefully put the nunnery on its list of Chinese sites to propose to Unesco.

Historian and board adviser Ko Tim-keung said he had been surprised to read about the national heritage list in a newspaper. "I could never imagine that this 14-year-old building, a fake antiquity, could represent Hong Kong. There are other sites in the city that deserve the status a lot more."

Meanwhile, Grace Lui Kit-yuk, deputy secretary for development, said it "would not be a bad thing" if the nunnery won a place on the UN agency's heritage list.

"Icomos China has accepted the submission," she said, referring to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which helps Beijing vet applications from provinces and compiles the list of proposed sites. "This shows that we didn't make a rash or wrong decision in supporting them."

The koi-filled ponds are inspiring pools for self-reflection
But Antiquities board member Tracy Lu Lie-dan worries the choice of the nunnery will have used up Hong Kong's quota of sites, as Beijing allows each province or region to recommend one or only a few sites on the national list.

Lu believes the chances of Unesco choosing the nunnery is very slim. "A world heritage site must be the best monument from a place, which deserves the government's utmost effort to preserve for future generations. Just whose heritage is this?"

The fact that the government didn't bother to ask the Antiquities board for its opinion on proposing the nunnery as a possible Unesco heritage site application means it probably knew it would not get the green light and childishly went ahead and pitched it to Beijing.

It really is a silly recommendation -- while it is an old-looking building, the temple was built in 1998!

The nunnery helps visitors escape the hectic life of Hong Kong
This also illustrates the keenness of Hong Kong officials to placate Beijing, but foolishly picking a building that has yet to accumulate enough historical value.

The nunnery is hardly on par with the Silk Road (of which Kashgar is being destroyed as we speak), or say the Forbidden City.

Some people have some explaining to do. And it better be good.

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