Local knowledge transfer in Hong Kong through gastronomy, agriculture and tourism

Sidney С. H. Cheung


How and why should we transfer knowledge? And what kind of knowledge we can transfer for good purposes. These questions only came to my mind when I realized that there were funds available for us to transfer our research outcomes for the benefits of the mass public in Hong Kong. In the government-funded university I am working for, apart from teaching and research funding, Knowledge Transfer (KT) fund is the third major funding for academic activities and is considered an important interactive channel between private and public domains so that mass society can benefit from the research outcomes generated from academic institutes supported by taxpayers. It was widely recognized that scientific research should be publicized for the mass interest, while humanities played a prominent role only in the last decade. Since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong has had more massive protests and public requests upon the government, and the student demonstration as well as the umbrella movement in 2014 was probably an important landmark of Hong Kong’s social movement in the past half century. Even in the everyday life of the mass public, Hong Kong people have become more aware of local traditions in communities, natural resource management, urban redevelopment, rural land use, etc., and have become more concerned about the engagement of stakeholders and the enhancement of local recognition; therefore, heritage-oriented tourism will be considered a good way to disseminate local culture and lifeways in order to promote the understandings of both urban and rural development in Hong Kong society.

Regarding urban redevelopment, many neighborhoods in Hong Kong are in fact rich in historical and cultural features that are worthwhile for local citizens and international tourists to explore. Over the last century, Sheung Wan made Hong Kong a successful and important trading hub, and traditional trade characteristics remain visible there today. Since the mid-19th century, through the network of overseas Chinese in Thailand, a company was established to facilitate the importation of various dried products into Hong Kong, for the purposes of trading with Chinese societies throughout Asia. Therefore, in 2012, I undertook my first knowledge transfer project entitled: ‘Learning from neighborhood tourism in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong’1, which prioritized data collection over theoretical analyses.

By delving into the neighborhood, I flashed back to the trade-development relationships of dried seafood, traditional Chinese medicines, and groceries such as salted fish over the past century. By doing so, I transformed the food-oriented knowledge gained from our community into a tourism resource, and hence an opportunity for local people and overseas visitors to learn and explore through the gastronomic journey. I believe the curiosity required in street observation in ‘modernology’ can be a cornerstone that fosters a mutual interaction between communities and tourism (Cheung and Luo 2016).

Through this project, I aimed at bringing the historical backgrounds and cultural meanings of different kinds of ingredients as well as dried products sold in a specific neighborhood which we consider an unique tourism resource both for domestic and international tourists, not only for shopping but also as channels for cultural understanding in our society, with particular reference to the relationship between one’s gastronomic experiences and domestic tourism; furthermore, with the ‘exotic’ food items in the context of Chinese diets, I believe that touring in Sheung Wan gives a unique experience for inbound tourists and excursionists looking for the culture and histoxy of Hong Kong (also see Hjalager and Richards 2002; Cheung 2005). Besides having been a trading hub as well as a commercial center of Hong Kong for over a century, this kind of Sheung Wan neighborhood visit contributes to local awareness through the interactions between tourists and local communities. Therefore, with my previous research project, I became a little familiar with the histoiy of some traditional settlements, fishing communities, and wetland conservation in the northeastern part of Hong Kong, and it was probably the main reason for me to move forward for the second KT project through the design of a new kind of heritage tourism.

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