You have just two weeks to go to see The Hong Kong Story – the core permanent exhibition at the HK Museum of History. It opened back in 2002, so it’s due for extensive refurbishment. But nasty suspicious minds might wonder whether the new-look exhibition will be Mainlandized, in keeping with the times.
When it opened a few years after the handover, some critics saw The Hong Kong Story as an exercise in post-colonial political correctness. (The History Museum’s previous site in Kowloon Park was much smaller and didn’t – from what I remember – have a comparable exhibit.)
Few would argue with the modern parts of the exhibition focusing on ordinary local life rather than on foreign governors and elites. But it seemed to try very hard to dilute the colonial era by devoting extensive space to geological formation, prehistoric settlement and the region’s not-very-exciting role in Yangtze-centric older Chinese history. This latter coverage reflected the ‘patriotic’ interpretation that Hong Kong had long been an important and thriving centre, not a humble ‘fishing village’ transformed by the wondrous Brits. In fairness, these displays were quite well done and interesting, considering the lack of original materials to put in them.
If Mainland ‘experts’ hijack the new exhibition, what shifts in emphasis can we expect?
One likely subject for rectification would be early migration of people into Southern China. Rather than have settlers moving up from what is now Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the new treatment might be more in line with CCP-approved ethnic-based accounts, in which every Neolithic dweller from Yunnan to Liaoning is a proud, happy, smiling Han.
Other possibilities include more negative coverage of colonial rule and more emphasis on the broader foreign-victimization-of-China theme. But more likely would be a downplaying of the whole ‘Hong Kong’ focus, not just glossing over Western influence but shifting away from the nostalgic ‘localist’ themes (Hakka farmers, urban life ‘under Lion Rock’, etc) in favour of portraying Hong Kong as a minor, indistinct and dependent component of the Greater Bay Area and Glorious Motherland. Just my guess.