Shophouses, housing estates and factories. "heritageisation" of working-class community in Hong Kong and their well-being

Independent scholar, Hong Kong

Shophouses, public housing states and factories are the main places of the life of working class in Hong Kong in the second half of the 20th century. They were also the main settings of popular culture depicting Hong Kong people with typical qualities such as hardworking and practical, in the hope of a better life. Towards the end of the century, these became history when many factories have been relocated and old residential buildings replaced by new ones.

The stories of the working class are now instead retold in museums, and heritage projects preserving remaining shophouses, estates and factories, as a form of collective memory of communities. Such a heritageisation of working-class communities can admittedly record the collective memory of our society. But after studying cases in Hong Kong, including the Mei Ho House Museum, the Blue House Complex and the Mills, particularly their narratives through texts and objects, the representations of working class in these heritage sites are selective.

The heritageisation of working-class communities are encapsulating the spatiality and materiality in nostalgia, represented through visual aesthetics instead of tangible physicality and functionality, while public spaces are hardly reconstructed with communal interaction. Heritageisation is thus distancing the community and contemporary visitors. The present is compared to the past with the improvement of welfare and living environment of general citizens, which conforms to the narratives of the ‘authorized heritage discourse’ (AHD) of the Hong Kong Museum of History, which promotes a claim of shared prosperity and the achievements of social welfare. The stories of working class are thus immersed into such simplified narratives which do not concern their well-being. I thus suggest possible directions for the future of heritage projects: How intangible qualities of the working class in using space and objects such as collective effort and fluidity can be represented.