The Hong Kong Museum of History: Gallery Overview
I love Hong Kong. While small, there is just so much to see and do, and to feast on, in this vibrant metropolis. Among the many free attractions that the city offers, the permanent galleries of the Hong Kong Museum of History is hands-down one of the best. 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 culture and heritage. The experience never fails to fascinate and thrill me. If you take the effort to visit, I’m certain you will feel the same way too.
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. As highlighted, the permanent galleries are free for all to enter. In my opinion, they rank among the best free attractions in Hong Kong.
Galleries 1 and 2: Natural Environment and Prehistoric Hong Kong
What is your impression of Hong Kong? Is it that of a densely populated city-state with a bewildering variety of architecture? Well, no one would fault you if you think so, however, know that the ex-colony is actually still home to large swaths of undeveloped land, with mankind having inhabited the area since antiquity too. These two galleries introduce the natural and geographical history of Hong Kong, as well as offer a glimpse into how life could have been prehistorical days. Of note, entrance into these galleries is itself quite a thrill. One moment you’re in the brightly lit ultramodern foyer. The next, you’re surrounded by atmospheric displays and ambient bird chirpings. It’s like a sudden trip back in time.
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, many 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 refuge for disposed royalty. When going through the displays, do take a moment to reflect on the shifting fortunes of Hong Kong. What was once a remote village in olden China is nowadays the most famous, most glamorous gateway into the Middle Kingdom. Had you predicted this in medieval times, most likely, you’d have been regarded as insane.
Gallery 4: Folk Culture in Hong Kong
The Folk Culture in Hong Kong Gallery is probably the one visitors spend the most time in. Lined with magnificent exhibits each displaying a slice of culture from Hong Kong’s four main ethnic groups, this gallery packs the most dazzling visual 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. Needless to say, selfie lovers will have a heavenly time here too.
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 the cession of Hong Kong to the British Empire, an episode considered as 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, information crucial to understanding why the British Empire wanted a new outpost in Southern China. During my latest visit in 2017, I encountered a group of students listening to their teacher’s narration while gathered around the figure of Lin Zexu. 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
To share, 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 Cantonese outpost into the modern mega-city it is today. Yet, British ownership of Hong Kong was also, through and through, a military trophy. One for a series of wars still considered by the Chinese to be 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 other museums in South East Asia. 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. What the city enjoys today was not easily achieved.
Gallery 8: Modern Metropolis and the Return to China
This gallery features the sights most familiar to foreign visitors nowadays i.e. the representative aspects of Hong Kong life best-known to the world. If you’re a fan of Hong Kong culture, I’m sure you will experience warm and fuzzy feelings when viewing the retro posters, comics, and so on. As for visitors who are unfamiliar, 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 movie. As a Hong Kong Wuxia drama fan, I have always been thrilled by this feature. In spite of the many times I’ve seen it.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Kuan Leong Yong