Finding Hong Kong’s ‘Sea Legs’: Revealing a Maritime Cultural Identity of Hong Kong and its Value in Maritime Heritage Research in Asia

Bill Jeffery1, Kam Ho-Ching, Joyce2, Richard Wesley3

1University of Guam

2University of Hamburg, Germany

3Australian National Maritime Museum, Australia

Hong Kong is a global financial centre, a focus for fashionable shopping, and a city of international cuisine. It has a global focus, yet the cultural identity expressed by what the Hong Kong government preserve is predominantly local Chinese tangible and intangible cultural heritage mixed with British built heritage. Initially centred on Hong Kong island but spread onto the Chinese mainland and across 263 islands through British expansion in the 19th century, the Hong Kong region has a distinctive maritime culture. But is it valued; does the government, the local community, and international tourists appreciate the significance of what made Hong Kong, and given it a maritime cultural identity? It can be seen in the maritime cultural landscape and seascape, which includes: prehistoric sites and rock carvings, 100 Tin Hau (Sea Goddess) temples, dragon boat racing, shipwrecks, pirate caves, lighthouses, coastal forts, cemetery graves of those lost at sea, and in the thousands of international freighters, ferries, fishing vessels and sampans plying its waters. It is also found in the Living Heritage of many who have lived, and used the coast and sea for their livelihoods. In context with an aim of this session ‘to stimulate discussion about a future framework for Maritime Cultural Heritage (MCH) research’, this paper will use a Hong Kong focus to highlight the value of incorporating Maritime Cultural Identity into future research. Identities are dynamic, they can be created and recreated, they can be politically developed, and they are also important factors in highlighting cultural diversity. The value of incorporating cultural identity research in MCH studies would provide an important and relevant connection with these aspects, as well as to contemporary communities and to those groups and agencies charged with preserving cultural heritage. It should after all be the main reason for preserving cultural heritage.