Written by Staff Writer
The much-anticipated new Hong Kong National Museum was officially opened Thursday amidst a storm of controversy after the opening was overshadowed by reports that some visitors have found themselves requiring media visas to attend the exhibit.
A three-floor structure of 21,000 square meters on the city’s Victoria Harbor — the largest building project by a government agency in Hong Kong’s history — M+ is part of a larger larger master plan for the waterfront area.
M+ features interactive, virtual and augmented reality elements. Credit: Courtesy M+
The museum was developed under a public-private partnership that saw the Hong Kong government contribute HK$13.9 billion (US$1.8 billion) in funding and the Hong Kong Tourism Board contribute another HK$1.5 billion (US$194 million). In return, the government was granted a 55% stake in the project.
Private investment was matched dollar-for-dollar by an unnamed “investor.” The museum was first announced in 2008.
The government is facing increasing pressure as the opening of the museum marks another “soft opening” ahead of its official full opening on September 15. Despite the challenges, new chief executive Carrie Lam recently promised to speed up the process of “positive discrimination” in other government schemes and programs.
Critics of Hong Kong’s government have said the museum needs to show greater support for Hong Kong’s 2.6 million residents, who make up nearly 70% of the city’s 7.1 million population.
On Friday, Lam denied claims that tourist visas were required for visitors to the M+ exhibition and urged visitors to “go to the museum and experience the exhibition as we hope.”
Original artwork at the new M+ museum. Credit: Courtesy M+
Among other features, the museum features interactive, virtual and augmented reality elements, as well as an auditorium that seats more than 100 people.
Hong Kong’s hotel industry has also been trying to secure its share of the festival’s audience, with some hotels offering accommodation packages. Hotel options include complimentary rooms during the festival and 40% off airfare for travelers willing to stay for the entire week, according to a statement released by the Hong Kong Hotels and Restaurant Association.
However, attendees from China and Macau have found it hard to secure admission, with some accusing the government of censorship and others saying they were turned away outright at the airport.
‘Censorship in disguise’
Tian Zhihui, who attended the debut event on Wednesday evening, said he arrived at the immigration border control checking station with a visa and a photocopy of his passport, but was stopped for a second time when a border patrol agent tried to ascertain whether he had previously been refused entry.
Tian Zhihui, a Hong Kong resident, said he was denied entry to the museum on Wednesday.
“I explained the interview process and how to approach the immigration officer,” he said. “A few minutes later, I got another call that I was being denied entry to the museum.”
Tian said he waited outside the Immigration check point until 4 a.m. on Thursday morning, only to get stopped again while trying to get to the M+. A volunteer then requested that he accompany staff to the immigration office to request that his pass was reconsidered.
“Several other journalists from Asia Media Partners and I managed to convince the immigration officer that we should be considered as visitor of M+,” Tian said. “We did not require any political activities and that we will remain neutral in politics, the arts and community activities.”
The Immigration Office confirmed that it has no rules barring visitors from entering museums with visitor visas.
Tian said his phone number had been emailed by the museum and he assumed the difficulties were down to malfunctioning equipment.
One in four visitors have been turned away for immigration purposes. Credit: Courtesy M+