The Hong Kong Museum of History: Gallery Overview
I love Hong Kong. While small, there is just so much to see and do in the Pearl of the Orient. The food and lights dazzle, and one can partake in many colorful activities without paying a cent. One of my favorite free attractions is the Hong Kong Museum of History, the permanent galleries of which are free to enter. Strolling through the galleries is like taking a compelling journey stretching over several hundred million years--a time travel trip showcasing the best of Hong Kong's culture and heritage. The experience never fails to fascinate me, no matter how many times I visit the museum.
Basic Visiting Information
Hong Kong Museum of History has eight permanent galleries spread across three floors. Presented chronologically, these are:
- The Natural Environment
- Prehistoric Hong Kong
- The Dynasties: From the Han to the Qing
- Folk Culture in Hong Kong
- The Opium Wars and the Cession of Hong Kong
- Birth and Early Growth of the City
- The Japanese Occupation
- Modern Metropolis and the Return to China
The museum itself is located at 100 Chatham Road South in Tsim Sha Chui, Kowloon. It is a short walk from either Tsim Sha Chui or Hung Hum MTR Stations.
Galleries 1 and 2: Natural Environment and Prehistoric Hong Kong
During my first visit to the museum in 2007, I was surprised by how expansive the natural and prehistorical sections were. Unfamiliar with many aspects of Hong Kong back then, my impression of the ex-colony was no more than that of a densely populated city-state with a bewildering variety of architecture. It was thus enlightening to learn how Hong Kong is blessed with an astonishing variety of flora and fauna, and how it was populated by humans since antiquity. As a tourist, I also enjoyed the dramatic teleportation provided by these two galleries. One moment I’m in the brightly lit ultramodern foyer. The next, I’m surrounded by atmospheric displays and ambient chirpings. It’s an awesome beginning to this indoor time travel journey.
Gallery 3: The Dynasties: From the Han to the Qing
This gallery could be confusing for visitors unfamiliar with Chinese imperial history. There were so many Chinese dynasties, all of which played a part in Hong Kong’s population development. In a nutshell, however, the story is that Hong Kong was once a borderland of the Chinese empire, as well as a destination for besieged royalty. For me, I’ve also always felt inclined to reflect on the shifting fortunes of Hong Kong while in this gallery. What was once a remote village in olden China is nowadays the most famous, most glamourous gateway into the Middle Kingdom.
Gallery 4: Folk Culture in Hong Kong
The Folk Culture in Hong Kong Gallery is probably the one visitors spend the most time in. It is definitely so for me! Lined with magnificent exhibits each displaying a slice of culture from Hong Kong’s four main ethnic groups, this gallery packs the most dazzling bits of Hong Kong culture into one chamber. From the towering bun towers of Cheung Chau to majestic religious effigies, to the reconstruction of a typical Hakka family dwelling, visiting this gallery is akin to experiencing the whole of Chinese heritage in Hong Kong all at once. In my opinion, visiting Hong Kong Museum of History just for this gallery is reason enough. I am sure many visitors would agree with me.
Gallery 5: The Opium Wars and the Cession of Hong Kong
Following the “fun” parts of Hong Kong history and heritage is the solemn segment. The fifth permanent gallery of Hong Kong Museum of History is devoted to the story behind Hong Kong’s cession to the British Empire, considered one of Imperial China’s most humiliating moments. To provide visitors with a complete understanding, the gallery also details the development of sea routes prior to the disastrous Opium Wars. During my latest visit in 2017, I encountered a group of students gathered around the figure of Lin Zexu while listening to their teacher’s narration. What was going on in their young minds then? In my case, it was how grim the world was but a century and a half ago. It’s also a reminder that everyone, regardless of nationality, should work together to prevent such times from returning.
Galleries 6 and 7: Birth and Early Growth of the City, and the Japanese Occupation
While I wasn’t born in Hong Kong, I am Chinese (Cantonese by dialect group), and so strolling through the Birth and Early Growth of the City Gallery always sparks conflicting feelings in me. Undoubtedly, British Colonial rule benefitted Hong Kong in many ways, foremost of which being the transformation of the city into the modern metropolis it is today. Yet, British ownership of Hong Kong was also in and out, a military trophy. One for a series of wars still considered by the Chinese as the most humiliating in modern times. To put it simply, was British Colonialism thus a good or bad thing?
I always ponder about this while going through this gallery. While standing amidst the incredible reconstructions of colonial period shops, teahouses, panoramas, etc.
As for the gallery on the Japanese Occupation, this is similar to those in Singapore and Malaysia, and so I tend to pass through it quickly. Nonetheless, for visitors unfamiliar with WWII in East Asia, this gallery would be an enlightening experience. It also reminds that several decades of blood and tears lies behind Hong Kong’s modern and glamorous façade.
Gallery 8: Modern Metropolis and the Return to China
The final gallery displays what is likely the most familiar to foreign visitors i.e. the representative aspects of Hong Kong life well-known to the world nowadays. Having grown up on a diet of shows and music from Hong Kong, I always experienced a sort of fuzzy feeling when viewing the retro posters, comics, and so on. For visitors completely new to Hong Kong, I believe this gallery would still charm, for like the preceding ones, much love and thought have gone into the conceptualization of the displays. Lastly, this gallery contains a great introduction to Hong Kong broadcast entertainment, in the form of an eight-minute short movie. As a Hong Kong wuxia drama fan, I am always thrilled by the feature. In spite of the many times I’ve seen it.
© 2018 Kuan Leong Yong