Today we bring to you the Public Records Office in Kwun Tong, Hong Kong. This article talks about the user experience in the office and the history of establishing an archives law in Hong Kong. 

How much can you find in the online catalogue?

The current electronic catalogue [1] is user-friendly, however the number of searchable collections is extremely limited. This has already been publicly lamented by the documentary director Connie Lo Yan-wai in 2017, when she was looking for records on the significant 1967 riot in Hong Kong, but only a single 21-second video was found in the repository [2]. Searches for politically sensitive terms such as “handover” or “1967” usually show very few results or no results at all.


The environment of the office

What next? After reserving items through the online catalogue of the office, you can visit the office during the booked period. The office enacts standard archive policies: white cotton gloves were given, and the belongings were requested to be put in lockers. The whole environment is comfortable, and I had the reading room all to myself. In fact, it seemed that staff were mildly surprised by my presence and are not used to having visitors. Inside the viewing area there were scanning machines, book holders, and computers to play CDs. Taking pictures of the documents needs to be self-recorded on a paper form. Starting from November 2019, the office has a trial scheme which extends its working hours from only weekdays to also half days of Saturdays, supposedly giving wider access to the public, and I was one of the first Saturday visitors. It is hoped that this can become a permanent policy because weekend opening hours will allow people who work on weekdays to view the records, which is the majority of Hong Kong’s citizens. The Office seems to understand that not only full-time researchers, students or professors will visit archives, but the general public who is simply interested in history must also be allowed to do so.

When will the archives law be established?
Despite discussions and consultations that have been going on forever [3], Hong Kong currently still has NO archives law, whereas almost every developed country in the world does. The lack of archives law means documents of each government units need not be sent to the records office, and records may be destroyed without the consent of the records office [4]. Also, Hong Kong also has no Freedom of Information Act—an act that gives the public the right to view records. According to the former head of the government records office Simon Chu, both the Freedom of Information Act and archive law are important to a free society, and the lack of both means the press lost the two most important weapons for seeking justice and truth [5]. In the year of 2018, documents totalling to a height of more than 6.2 km were destroyed, and the top three departments which destroyed the most records are the Inland Revenue Department, the Immigration Department and Hong Kong Police [6]. One cannot help but ask: when will the archives law be established?








儘管在香港,有關檔案法的討論一直在進行[3],但目前仍未有建立檔案法,而世界上幾乎每個發達地方都有。缺乏檔案法意味著政府部門無須被強制將文件發送到檔案處,而檔案未經檔案處同意,便可能會被毀損[4]。此外,香港也沒設有賦予公眾查看公共機構記錄權利的資訊自由法。據前政府檔案處處長朱福強所說,資訊自由法和檔案法對自由社會都很重要;缺乏這兩樣是意味著新聞界失去了尋求正義和真理的最重要武器[5]。在2018年,一共有總高度超過6.2 km的政府文件被銷毀,而銷毀最多記錄的前三個部門是稅務局、入境署和警務署[6]。究竟香港何時才會建立檔案法呢?

Extended readings

[1] Government Records Office, Search our holdings.

[2] 2017-01-04 鍾劍華 浮現的檔案 消失的檔案

[3] 25/11/2011 The Pulse: Why Hong Kong Needs an Archive Law

[4] 2017-03-09 銷毀的檔案,失憶的城市,誰在抹掉香港歷史?

[5] 2019-08-22 【逃犯條例】中大立庫存文檔 朱福強:南韓光州事件亦有設檔案館

[6] 【149 幢 IFC】政府去年銷毀文件高近 63,000 米 警務處屋宇署未經批准毀 32 檔案

Categories: Archives 檔案館