Dragon Garden is saved, but now needs to be conserved properly through community support.
It started with a barren hill in 1949 when Grandfather Lee bought it from the Hong Kong Government, in order to “beautify Hong Kong”. Over the span of 20 years, he lovingly planned, designed and landscaped the garden to become one of Hong Kong’s hidden cultural treasures in the New Territories, only 30 minutes drive away from Central. Over the past 60 years, it was mostly enjoyed by family, friends, and his business associates as a weekend villa, although it was opened to the public for a short two years in the 1970′s, with proceeds benefitting charity.
When I learned that my family was selling Dragon Garden to a developer to make way for another high rise block, I tried to persuade my family, and also made a public appeal to the Hong Kong people and HKSAR Government, to save Dragon Garden as one of Hong Kong’s most unique cultural heritage assets.
On July 3, 2006, the South China Morning Post ran a front page story on the history of Dragon Garden and the philanthropic works of Dr. Lee Iu Cheung, who served as a permanent advisor to The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals for 27 years, as well as voluntary service to about 50 associations and organizations aimed at improving the social and economic conditions of the Hong Kong people, especially after WWII.
The week-long articles led to overwhelming support from the public, but received no immediate actions from the government to declare it a temporary monument. Over 130 newspaper articles were written on Dragon Garden in the first two months.
The saving of Dragon Garden prompted me to set up The Dragon Garden Charitable Trust, whose mission is “to preserve cultural and heritage assets in Hong Kong for public benefit”. The money raised for this public charity is used to fund projects to raise public awareness for our tangible and intangible heritage in Hong Kong.
I have many people to thank, including academics from the Chinese University and Hong Kong University, nature and heritage conservationists, the press, architects and planners, overseas advisors, supportive friends and family, district councillors and the Antiquities Advisory Board, and of course the Hong Kong people, all of whom have offered their invaluable advice and help, and sometimes just words of encouragement via email.
On August 31, 2006, my uncle, Dr. Lee Shiu, the youngest son of Dr. Lee Iu Cheung, bought Dragon Garden from his family shareholders, with the wish to donate the garden to the people of Hong Kong via the HKSAR Government. Because Hong Kong has no up-to-date legislation to protect privately owned historical properties, the entire exercise of donating a large estate to the HKSAR Government, from a private donor, has been an educational process for all.
With the conservation and town planning issues raised over the demolition of the Star Ferry and Queen’s Pier to make way for more highways and cars, and the pre-meditated destruction of King Yin Lei on Stubbs Road by its developer owner (a 1938 mansion in the same architectural genre as Dragon Garden), the newly formed Development Bureau under the leadership of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet Ngor was forced to re-examine Hong Kong’s outdated Antiquities Monuments Ordinance and to propose some interim administrative measures in the form of a Heritage Policy announced in the Chief Executive’s policy address in October 2007.
However, this policy only lasts as long as the official’s term lasts and may not perpetuate into the future to protect Hong Kong’s remaining cultural assets, unless made into legislation. I have done my share to lobby the Legislative Council for a Sub-committee on Heritage Conservation, which was formed in May 2007. Much more lobbying to the government officials, district councillors, and the general public, needs to be done to raise awareness that Hong Kong needs to protect and value its cultural identity, which is being lost at an increasing rate due to so-called economic progress.
With Hong Kong’s $500 Billion surplus, we can afford to put aside money for a Heritage Fund to support a legislated Heritage Policy. Hong Kong’s dependency on land sales for its revenues will have to change if it is at the expense of tearing down our cultural assets. How can we continue to attract visitors and to retain our own citizens if Hong Kong loses its unique character which is formed by its past history?
The successful conservation of Dragon Garden will be determined by the vision of its owner, Dr. Lee Shiu and his wife, Dr. Jennie Mui Lee, the HKSAR Government and its officials, and the support of the community. It will take time, but it’s worth doing it right.
Cynthia Lee (李康意)
The Dragon Garden Charitable Trust