Heritage protection hindered by lack of laws

Saturday, July 16, 2011
Issue 1359, Page 3
Word count: 608
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The Association for Macau Historical and Cultural Heritage Protection has urged the government to enact comprehensive laws without further delays in order to meet international standards for heritage preservation.

The statement is consistent with the recent request from UNESCO that has called on the SAR Government to develop “appropriate legal and planning instruments” incorporating its urban planning in a bid to protect the city’s cultural heritage.

The association’s chairman Cheang Kuok Keong said since the Historic Centre of Macau was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on July 15, 2005, the “over-development of land” and the “disorderly” construction of high-rise buildings resulting from economic development have “destroyed” the city’s natural landscape and also given rise to “constant major controversies” over the protection of the cultural landscape.

The Macau Polytechnic Institute and 10 local associations co-organised a forum on the current situation and future of Macau’s intangible cultural heritage yesterday, coinciding with the sixth anniversary of the successful inscription of the Historic Centre of Macau.

Cheang referred to examples such as the Guia Lighthouse, Nam Van Lake and Sai Van Lake, Small Taipa Hill and also the Penha Hill, where high-rise construction has threatened the surrounding environment and landscape.

He pointed out that the key problem is Macau still lacks comprehensive urban planning and related legislation.

The Cultural Affairs Bureau, however, disclosed recently that the long-awaited heritage protection law will be submitted to the Executive Council shortly and it is hoped that the legislative procedure can be completed before the end of this year.

Cheang said in early as July 2003, his association had already warned that the territory’s heritage protection was facing “tremendous danger, since Macau lacks overall urban planning and is in an era where a new round of large-scale investment is being triggered by the liberalisation of the gaming industry”.

He also said under the environment of rapid economic growth, “a lot of valuable and unique heritage” was destroyed in exchange for development space and the “beautiful humanistic view is constantly being damaged”.

Macau’s cultural heritage, he stressed, is in a danger of permanent destruction caused by “short-term economic incentives”.

Meanwhile, vice-chairman of the Cultural Industry Committee, Leong Heng Teng, said in the opening speech that intangible cultural heritage is “not only a culture, but a tradition and an important cohesion” in the local community.

“Through public participation, a harmonious community relationship is formed. It is an important value of intangible cultural heritage and if this traditional culture cannot be protected properly, it will harm the traditional structure of the community to a certain extent,” Leong pointed out.

Director of the Institute of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Sun Yat-Sen University, Kang Baocheng, told reporters before delivering his keynote speech that mainland China, like Macau, is facing difficulty in finding young people to inherit intangible cultural heritage.

Kang believed that fostering “cultural successors” should begin as early as possible during childhood but the older generation has the “responsibility to look for these people”.

The mainland expert suggested the SAR Government and local associations offer financial support to encourage the young generation to learn intangible cultural heritage, such as the Drunken Dragon dance or the Cantonese Nanyin opera.

In addition, director of the South China Research Centre of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Liu Tik Sang, said the fundamental requirement for heritage conservation is that local people have “the heart” in doing so.

“If the people are proud of it [the heritage] then they will be willing to spend time on preserving it,” Liu told reporters.

The government and academic institutes also need to play a part by offering support, he added.

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