The Mainland Connection: The Politics of Identity as Constructed by the Hong Kong Museum of History
The Hong Kong Museum of History, located in a complex right across from the Hong Kong Science Museum at Chatham Road South in Tsim Sha Tsui, on Hong Kong’s Kowloon side, is one of the most prominent institutions that educate the public on Hong Kong history. The museum measures 17,500 square meters, boasts two floors and eight permanent galleries, spans over 400 million years of Hong Kong History, and enjoys a status as one of the most popular cultural destinations for tourists and school groups alike. The permanent exhibit, called “The Hong Kong Story,” begins its tale from the development of Hong Kong as an island in the Devonian period and closes with the 1997 handover (HKMH).
Because I had known that Hong Kong was a city composed of multiple fragments of cultures, I had planned to research how the Hong Kong Museum of History portrayed Hong Kong’s history and shaped its cultural identity. Before I even set foot in the museum, however, a few experiences were already shaping my approach to my research. In the weeks before I left for Hong Kong, a friend gave me a tip: though I speak both English and Mandarin, he advised me to speak only English in Hong Kong because of the growing anti-mainland sentiment. The South China Morning Post delivered to my hotel door each morning, with articles headed “Students prefer Hong Kong identity: Poll” and “Speakers Deride HK Nativism,” seemed to prove his point within the first few days of my stay. I began to hypothesize that the museum would actually fashion Hong Kong as a unique entity apart from China, as a reflection of popular sentiment in Hong Kong. Try as I might, however, by the end of my first museum visit, I was disappointed that I still had not found the pro-nativism texts I was looking for.
It was only when I was watching the last video on Hong Kong's history in the museum's last exhibit, when a sequence on Tiananmen flashed across the screen, that I realized I had been searching for the wrong thing all along. Throughout the museum, all of the exhibits and didactic texts had actually grounded Hong Kong identity within a greater Chinese cultural identity.