written by: Tsang Kin Fu, Kin

On 23 December 2016, the government announced to build the palace museum (the Project) in the West Kowloon Cultural District [1]. According to Carrie Lam, the then Chief Secretary of HKSAR, the Project is a big gift from Beijing. However, many Hongkongers hold the view that the Project is perhaps an expression of China’s soft power over the territory. Some media critics compare the Project to the exhibition of the Qing Ming Shang He Tu (清明上河圖) painting back in 2007. The exhibition has been a phenomenal success and is very well received by the general public. On contrary, the Project has fueled up much unresolved controversy and negative publicity.

The controversy sets in from two general directions: institutional complexity and promotional activities.

To Build or Not to Build
The expectation on any new policies/decisions made by the government is supposed to be well-versed with proper procedure and governance. The Project, worth HK$3.8 Billion, however, is seemingly proceeding without proper public consultation and open tendering.

The six-week consultation (later extended for two more weeks) that starts in January 10 is a U-turn resulted from much controversy. However, the focuses of the consultation is largely on the museum design details rather than the much talk-about issue of “to build or not to build” and/or “where to build”. The consultation is supposedly an exercise to respond to public concern. However, the way it is done depicts the perception of a “whitewashing exercise” discounting public opinion. If the government genuinely regards the general public as an integral part of the stakeholder’s community, it may be advisable to make an effort to create less provoking publicity.

Promotion Campaign Triggered Negative Sentiments
The government’s promotion effort on the Project is a six-month campaign [2] from end 2016 to July 2017 titled “In Touch with Palace Museum” (故宮全接觸). A huge MTR wall display featuring the Forbidden City is put up to promote a four-part television program. However, the wall creative is borrowed by political parties to re-enact the Tiananmen Square incident and aroused much politically sensitive sound bites not relevant to the Project.

Photo credit: Hong Kong Free Press

In addition, the TV program “In Touch with Palace Museum” (觸得到的故宮) on TVB cannot be accessed after the program ended. As a major audio-visual promotion element of an integrated promotion campaign, this is probably a note-worthy point for communication professionals to re-think whether this is a sound investment for image/product promotion.

As a former member of the Legislative Council Lee Cheuk-yan once said, “If you do it in a proper way, well, Hong Kong people appreciate museums. We appreciate art.”

[1] http://www.news.gov.hk/en/categories/admin/html/2016/12/20161223_191005.shtml
[2] http://www.museums.gov.hk/web/portal/intouch-pm.html