The Hong Kong version of Beijing’s Palace Museum will showcase about 800 exhibits from the mainland Chinese attraction, of which a fifth are regarded “national treasures”, its chief has revealed while offering assurances that the project will not overrun its budget.
Louis Ng Chi-wa, the Hong Kong Palace Museum director, said on Wednesday that when the venue opened in mid-2022 he expected about 5,000 people each day to visit its exhibitions of porcelain, paintings, calligraphy and other artefacts, amounting to an annual flow of between 1.5 million and 2 million people.
Marking the completion of the museum’s building structure, Ng predicted his team would take control of the site in the West Kowloon Cultural District in or around the third quarter of next year, provided other works ran smoothly. It would then be in a position to receive the relics in phases over the Lunar New Year period in 2022.
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“Among the 800 relics, about 20 per cent of them are listed as ‘grade-one relics’. We generally call them ‘national treasure’ grade. Most of them will be showcased for the first time in Hong Kong,” Ng said, without disclosing the specific items.
In 2016, the city signed a HK$3.5 billion (US$451 million) deal with Beijing to create a replica of the capital’s celebrated Palace Museum at the 40-hectare district on the Victoria Harbour waterfront. The district is designed to make Hong Kong one of the world’s leading cultural destinations.
The museum will host nine exhibition galleries celebrating the culture of the original palace, ranging from its architecture and the works of art displayed there, to the royal lifestyle of the Qing dynasty.
Those galleries carry various themes such as Entering the Forbidden City, A Day Inside the Forbidden City and The Emperor’s Porcelain: Treasures from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
The building will also house a 400-seat auditorium, a learning and innovation centre, as well as food and beverage businesses.
The Hong Kong Palace Museum, in collaboration with the Palace Museum in Beijing, is set to become a new platform for promoting Chinese culture internationally
Although the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the construction process for weeks, Ng said: “We are confident that this project will finish on schedule without cost overruns and will complete with quality works.”
Earlier, the Beijing venue’s director, Wang Xudong, said the local museum would make its debut in June 2022.
During a visit to the local construction site on Wednesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the museum would be dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of Chinese art and culture, while advancing dialogue among the world’s civilisations and cultures.
“Backed by the motherland, rooted in Hong Kong and imbued with a global vision, the Hong Kong Palace Museum, in collaboration with the Palace Museum in Beijing, is set to become a new platform for promoting Chinese culture internationally,” she said in a press statement.
Ng said his team was studying how the local museum would operate, including ticketing arrangements and the pandemic’s impact on its business and visitor flow.
“Museum is a cultural organisation. It’s not a profit-making organisation. Many museums across the world cannot break even. But I will strive to establish a healthy financial status whenever possible and secure some income to support part of our expenditure,” he said.
He said guest turnout as initially estimated might be affected if the pandemic remained serious at the time of launch.
“Of course, if the pandemic gets so bad like now, we definitely can’t meet that target. Even our local residents wouldn’t be able to come,” he said.
He foresaw that some of the guests would come from outside Hong Kong, but that would depend on the recovery of city tourism. “If the visitor flow turns out to be small in the end, we will adjust our expenditure.”
Hoping for a revival next year for the industry, tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said offering a new attraction would help encourage travellers to return.
“These will include those living in the Pearl River Delta. For them, the Beijing museum is quite far away,” Yiu said.
Yiu predicted the attraction would lure long-haul travellers, complimenting the Xiqu Centre and M+ museum already based in the district, as he urged authorities to run campaigns specifically promoting their highlight exhibits.
The developments in the project offer a rare piece of good news for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which has been at the centre of a row over the departure of its CEO.
Duncan Pescod is leaving the arts hub later this month, with Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee stepping in for six months from December as interim CEO.
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