This study focuses on examining and analysing the interplay between heritagization and institutionalization of Cantonese opera. Cantonese opera is representative of Lingnan culture through its interpretation of the historical changes and secular customs of Guangdong, as well as the preservation of Hong Kong’s local linguistic characteristics and cultural memory. It is an art genre replete with abundant Chinese cultural elements, thus is deemed as suitable for developing Chinese cultural identity. The Xiqu Center in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) is a ground-breaking investment in cultural infrastructure, marking a new era in the development of traditional Chinese theatre. As the WKCD’s first performing arts venue, the Xiqu Center opened in 2019 with the mission of promoting, conserving, and developing traditional Chinese theatre.
This study explores the intense debates surrounding how this new cultural infrastructure should play its role in the heritagization of Cantonese opera, specifically related to the transmission of cultural heritage of traditional Chinese theatre. This study uses internet-based surveys, semi-structured interviews with the public and cultural heritage professionals (CHPs), and interviews with experts (including scholars and maestros of traditional Chinese theatre) as data sources. The results revealed that factors of (1) aesthetics and artistry, (2) cultural identity, and (3) publicity and internationalization have contributed to public perception of this significant cultural infrastructure in Hong Kong. This study’s findings shed new light on how institutionalization of Cantonese opera interacts with cultural, social, and political factors, for example, by examining how Hong Kong’s unique historical relationship with China and the West has played a role in the heritagization process. Further, the perceptions of the public and CHPs on the Xiqu Center may have many implications for the future cultural development and transmission of cultural heritage in Hong Kong as they reflect people’s cultural literacy, values, and identity. This study’s findings may help cultural officials and administrators, CHPs, and policymakers better understand the phenomenon of heritagization and how to transmit traditional Chinese art and elevate it to its rightful place on the international stage.