Comparative study of the conservation policies or practices in different places is certainly a useful means of achieving a better approach to the conservation of the built cultural heritage in urban areas. In spite of the abundant literature in this field, it appears that the cultural dimensions of the issues have always been neglected. With this background, the origins of this study lie in two sets of ideas. First, protection of built heritage is a people-centred exercise so it is largely influenced by the culture of the community. Second, the effort to transfer heritage protection ideologies from the West to the East (or vice versa) may be in vain because of the pre-existing perspectives of people or the cultural impasse. A comparative study of the policies for the protection of the built heritage in Hong Kong and Queensland was thus conducted. The two centres selected for study are a representative sample because they experienced colonial regime by the same sovereignty while they are dominated respectively by Eastern and Western cultures.
It is found that the Chinese approach to conservation is building-centric whereas it is setting-centric for the Western one. This difference can be attributed to the divergent cultural beliefs in the East and West. The Eastern wisdoms rooted in Confucianism and Taoism advocate a self-to-the-state model for heritage protection. Therefore, declaration of buildings as monuments is always done on a building-by-building basis and there is a lack of area conservation provision in heritage protection laws in Hong Kong. Contrary to this approach, and in addition to the listing of individual properties, designation of conservation areas or districts is accorded legal backup in Queensland with a view to conserving both building and the substance (i.e. the setting) in a more macroscopic manner. In addition, as prescribed by the traditional Chinese wisdoms, harmony in personal relationships is emphasized so the Hong Kong government tends to engage in lengthy negotiations with the property owners in cases of disagreement rather than to resort to the court, even though this option is reserved in the legislation.
Based on these findings, we contend that community education is the vital prerequisite for the integration and assimilation of conservation ideologies from places with different cultural backgrounds. In the case of Hong Kong, the success in applying conservation policies imported from Western countries rests on the sense of ownership of the culture in the community. Only by making people appreciate that conservation is a household affair, concrete support can be obtained from the public to drive an effective conservation campaign. The same principle for conservation ideology exchange can apply to other parts of the world.
© Copyright Lynne Armitage & Yung Yau, 2006