Hong Kong news stronger heritage protection laws

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Chinese University of Hong Kong law professor Steven Gallagher discusses the weaknesses in Hong Kong’s current heritage laws.

Current Hong Kong laws fail the test of heritage protection
South China Morning Post, 25 July 2016

Many news stories have focused on disputes and issues involving Hong Kong’s “cultural heritage”.

Recently an underwater archaeology group discovered an ancient stone anchor and bronze cannons in the waters off Hong Kong and called for more government support for archaeological investigation. The demolition of Ho Tung Gardens and the delays caused to the Sha Tin to Central rail project by the discovery of the archaeological remains of a well at the former Sacred Hill in To Kwa Wan are still fresh memories.

High rents and greedy landlords have been accused of forcing out artisan workers and favourite food restaurants, representing loss of intangible cultural heritage. The issue of Queen’s Pier is also ongoing.

The body tasked with protecting heritage for us all, the Antiquities Advisory Board, has been criticised for being ineffective, weak and secretive, and the discovery of the remains of HMS Tamar is being ignored as much as possible.

Full story here.

Is it time for Singapore to have transparent heritage impact assessments?

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Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

An editorial in Singapore’s Straits Times by two scholars in Singapore’s ancient history discuss the need for heritage impact assessment to help mitigate the irretrievable loss of archaeology from construction work. Personally, it seems strange to me that most of the archaeological work in Singapore has been characterised as rescue archaeology, as opposed to systematic operations that should be required when constructing on what is known as an archaeologically rich and significant area. This suggests that there is little coordination between the heritage and public works agencies, and hence, a need for a transparent heritage impact assessment process.

Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

Digging up Singapore’s history
The Straits Times, 21 February 2015

The archaeological excavation at Empress Place, which Minister Lawrence Wong visited last week, is the latest in a series of excavations started 30 years ago.

Other places recently excavated include the back of the Victoria Theatre before its renovation, and the space between the old Supreme Court and City Hall before it was built over to connect the two buildings for a National Art Gallery.

The driving force behind these excavations, 30 years ago and today, remains the same. It is to search for and recover any historical artefacts before redevelopment takes place. The limited, albeit detailed, Chinese and South-east Asian historical records suggest that a settlement existed at the mouth of the Singapore River since the end of the 13th century, which grew during the 14th century into a kingdom and port-city called Singapura, lasting for a century. Apart from Sir Stamford Raffles and John Crawfurd, the second governor of Singapore, who gave early 19th century eyewitness accounts of the remnants of this settlement, there has been no further confirming evidence.

It was only in 1984 that such evidence was recovered when the old National Museum invited Dr John N. Miksic, an archaeologist then teaching in Indonesia, to conduct a trial excavation on Fort Canning, a site which had been extensively developed and landscaped. Against the odds, an undisturbed layer of soil and earth datable to the 14th century was found around the old Keramat Iskandar Shah. Further excavations over the years have confirmed the conclusions drawn by historians from historical texts on Singapore’s 700-year legacy.

Full story here.

Indonesia still undecided on ratifying underwater heritage convention

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After last month’s furore over the attempted sale of the Cirebon shipwreck haul, Indonesia still has an undecided stance towards ratifying the UNESCO convention on underwater cultural heritage. Even more surprising is that Cambodia is the only country in Asia that has ratified the convention!

RI undecided on underwater heritage convention
Jakarta Post, 03 June 2010
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Philippines strengthens protection of historical and cultural heritage through legislation

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New legislation signed by the Philippine president gives new powers to the National Historical Council of the Philippines to oversee all matters relating to Philippine history.

New law strengthens agency’s efforts to preserve historical, cultural heritage
Business World, 30 May 2010
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Calls for better legislation to protect Indonesia's sunken treasures

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Indonesia faces increased calls for better legislation to monitor and protect underwater treasures found in its waters, in the wake of the recent auction attempt of the Cirebon shipwreck treasures.

Indonesia Criticized for Murky Rules on Sunken Treasures
Jakarta Globe, 14 May 2010
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