The Propensity of Things: Cultural Relics and the Reconstruction of Histories

Dr Cecilia Chu3

3The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

This paper explores the role of archaeological remains as a medium for narrating competing cultural histories that challenge normative conceptions of place identities associated with national sovereignties. It does so by tracing recent debates over the conservation of several archaeological sites in postcolonial Hong Kong where old foundation stones and cultural relics from the pre-colonial era were recently excavated. Since the transfer of its sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997, the Hong Kong government has invested significant resources for conserving the city’s historic relics and reinterpreting them as symbols of its Chineseness, hearkening back to shared origins to argue for a common future of “Greater China.” However, these very same sites have been interpreted by “localist” groups as cultural assets that highlight Hong Kong as a unique “historical-cultural place” that is connected to but always lie outside the Chinese nation. By tracing the contested historical claims and moral assumptions associated with these sites, this paper illustrates the propensity of cultural relics for narrating different layers of histories, invoking competing conceptions of localities and territories, and constructing divergent spatial imaginaries of the past and future.


Cecilia Chu is a faculty member in the Division of Landscape Architecture at the University of Hong Kong. She is the author of Colonial Urban Development in Hong Kong: Speculative Housing and Segregation in the City (Routledge, 2020) and co-editor of The Speculative City: Emergent Forms and Norms of the Built Environment (University of Toronto Press, 2020).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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