The project “Tung Wah Coffin Home” made use of on-line and off-line platforms to introduce the history and significance of the Tung Wah Coffin Home, enabling students to rethink the relationship between heritage preservation and heritage development.
Tung Wah Coffin Home primarily served as storage of the remains and coffins of overseas Chinese, and to facilitate their return to their hometowns. Established over 100 years ago, the heritage site not only reflects Chinese funeral traditions but also provides valuable information on the history of immigration, as it helps to chart the development of Chinese migration networks.
Unlike other grade one historic buildings the Coffin Home has kept a very low profile. The heritage site is not open to the public for tourism, and visits are only granted by appointment or by joining the regularly organised guided tours.
The project team invited the Head of the Record and Heritage Office, Ms Stella See from the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals to give a brief talk and a guided tour of the Coffin Home to students. During the talk, she mentioned the contradiction between heritage development and preservation. To respect death and to ensure the dead have a peaceful place to rest, a low profile has been maintained and attracting tourists for economic gain has not been encouraged. As owner of the Coffin Home, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals has not intended to upgrade the heritage status, thus avoiding government intervention and too much public attention.
By using the case as a sample, the project team hopes to reveal the complexity of heritage conservation. After the tour, we also established a webpage to feature the case. By examining the historical details, the significance and the controversy of Tung Wah Coffin Home on the website, we hope to further the understanding of the issues of debate concerning heritage conservation and development.