Saturday, 28 February 2015

Wing Wing: Destroyers of Ancient Civilisation

Destroyers of Ancient Civilisation
Translated by Chen-t'ang 鎮棠, Edited by Vivian L., Written by 翼雙飛 (Wing Wing)
Original: http://www.passiontimes.hk/article/02-27-2015/21438 


ISIS terrorists released a video on YouTube on 26 Feb, saying that the Prophet Mohammed ordered them to get rid of the statues and relics in the Mosul Museum in Iraq. Statues  and artefacts with 3,000 years of history were smashed with sledgehammers and electric drill; broken pieces shattered over the floor. Over 100,000 manuscripts and books were burnt, Observer reported.

Countless relics, monuments and books had been destroyed by tyrants and warfare throughout the history of mankind. If you look at examples in Chinese history, the oldest is probably Qin Shihuang's "burning of books and burying of scholars"; Cultural Revolution is another winner if you look at more recent times. In the Cemetery of Confucius, not a single piece of ancient stone tablet is currently intact -- all has once seen varying degrees of sabotage. But those are the lucky ones -- you can still somehow restore the carvings by putting the pieces together. But many other historical artefacts have suffered a fate far worse: thanks to the Cultural Revolution, many ancient architecture, antiquities and books have virtually vanished into thin air.

When a person dies, one's intellect ceases to exist; what's left of one's existence is one's works, where one's thoughts and ideas are carried through to generations beyond his own. Among all creatures, human beings are the only species who consciously keep artefacts that were passed down by their ancestors, and who are willing to even risk their lives for the sake of preserving these embodiment of humankind's wisdom. People hid books at the risk of their lives during the Cultural Revolution; and now there are "protectors of ancient civilisation" who dedicate themselves in saving manuscripts and antique in Syria.

Human beings are different from animals because we do not only aim at fulfilling physiological needs, we strive for esteem and self-actualisation, in Maslow's words. We pass on books written by our ancestors, as they are meaningful for our children. We pass on artworks that portrayed our times to our children who then pass on to children of their own, so that they can appreciate and understand the times of their fathers and mothers. We maintain and protect exquisite architectures, as they are built by our ancestors, and our offspring can learn from them. Without them carrying our wisdom, how can knowledge be accumulated? How can history be remembered?

You might wonder, ISIS is far away from Hong Kong; the Cultural Revolution is already half a century ago -- how do these things matter us? Yes, they certainly do--because the exact same thing is happening in Hong Kong. In the MTR Shatin-Central Link construction site at To Kwa Wan, excavation unearthed an ancient well and numerous historical artefacts dated back to Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1276-1368) dynasties. But MTR has rejected the in-situ conservation proposal to keep the monuments exactly where they are located because of the extra cost and time incurred to preserve the site while the construction continues. MTR also admitted to having destroyed four wells and over two hundred relics so far. Although the Antique and Monument Office (AMO) said they have recorded before the destruction of such monuments, they failed to notify the public until such incident was reported. How meaningful or not meaningful are those monument? AMO might not even know, because we will never be able to restore the destroyed monuments.

Too many invaluable monuments had been destroyed, and what we can do is to sigh. If we did the same mistake, if we care only about "money" and "progress", so much that we rob our future generations of irreplaceable pieces of history only to build a new railway line, how then would we face our next generation?

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