Preserving Culture Via Sugar Art

The blown sugar technique, included in Hong Kong's intangible cultural heritage list, is a traditional folk art with a history that dates back over 600 years. It is one of many cultural assets the Government is safeguarding through the Intangible Cultural Heritage Funding Scheme.

 

As one fine example of the scheme, blown sugar artist To Wun conducted a blown sugar technique workshop at one of the venues of the Hong Kong Society for Community Organization (SoCO) in Sham Shui Po.

 

With a bit of pinching and the use of scissors, hot maltose is transformed into various animal shapes in an instant. Participants of the workshop are captivated as Master To showcases his extraordinary skills.

 

After observing, they get the opportunity to try the sugar artistry themselves. Master To begins by taking a droplet-like maltose and shaping it into a ball, rolling it, and swiftly pulling out a thin straw. Then, he invites participants to blow air into the ball, causing it to expand.

 

Apart from blowing sugar, they learn skills in pinching and cutting to achieve the desired shape as Master To demonstrates how to sculpt the maltose into different figures.

 

Unique experience

At the end of the workshop, SoCO Community Organizer Crystal Yuen said she was confident that the participants, each from disadvantaged groups in the grassroots community, experienced joy from the class.

 

“Even if what they created was not perfect, given it was their first attempt, I found that they were thrilled when showing me their final products.

 

“Their daily lives seem to be filled with unhappiness, encountering numerous unpleasant experiences or hardships, and their current living conditions may not be very favourable too. It is a unique experience for them that can deepen their understanding of concepts such as intangible cultural heritage.”

 

Preserving tradition

Master To said that he can relate to the participants.

 

“When I was young, my family relocated to Hong Kong. Initially settling in the city, we resided in subdivided housing due to financial constraints.”

 

He expressed a sense of fulfilment from being able to help the less fortunate and at the same time preserve this local tradition in a way that is both educational and fun.

 

“I find great satisfaction in being able to engage in the workshop and offer assistance to the participants, which brings me happiness. It also evokes memories of their youth and sparks conversations about unique experiences. For some, witnessing the process of blowing sugar is a novel encounter.”

 

Diversified strategy

The blown sugar technique workshop is just one of many projects funded under the Intangible Cultural Heritage Funding Scheme. The scheme is managed by the Intangible Cultural Heritage Office of the Leisure & Cultural Services Department.

 

The scheme’s main goal is to raise the public’s awareness of Hong Kong’s intangible cultural heritage in addition to supporting the transmission of such traditions.

 

By the end of 2023, a total of 124 projects have been funded under the scheme. The projects include research and publications, public programmes and education or promotion activities, transmission and training courses, festivals, and sacrificial rituals.

 

Cultural preservation

Leisure & Cultural Services Department Assistant Curator II Ruby Wong pointed out that there are currently about 480 intangible cultural heritage items in Hong Kong.

 

She explained that the office's goal is to raise awareness about these items among various groups of people.

 

“There were some programmes in the past that benefitted different groups of people in society. For example, we funded some guided tours and group visits to our Intangible Cultural Heritage Centre for the physically disabled people. We also paid to promote Nanyin to visually impaired students. And we also funded some workshops for minority groups of people to teach them the culture of spring scrolls and also the Cantonese dialect.”

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