Cemetery is the product of human culture and society. In the scholarly discussion in the West, the importance, value and characteristics of cemetery has attracted attention for a period of time. Western scholars such as Philippe Aries、James Stevens Curl and Julie Rugg have examined the evolution and nature of cemetery from various perspectives. Recently, Chinese scholars such as Ko Tim-Keung, Ting Sun-Pao and Ying Fok-Tsang have started to conduct research in this area, and try to study the development and history of cemeteries in Hong Kong.
St. Michael Cemetery has been set up in Wong Nai Chung Road in 1848. It is one of the earliest cemeteries in Hong Kong, and has its special meanings in terms of historical, religious and social aspects. Thus, it is worthwhile for scholars to investigate its historical development and evolution.
Since 2006, the Centre for Catholic Studies has paid attention to the values of this 19th century Catholic cemetery. Sponsorship and research fund have been received from the Lord Wilson Trust Fund, the United College Lee Hysan Fund, the CUHK Direct Grant. The emphasis of the research project is on:
- Survey on graveyard: Catholic Church history in Hong Kong has been focusing on official archives and events that occurred in religious congregations and among priests. Thus, survey, data analysis and research on laity are neglected. Cemetery is an important source of data on laity. Through surveying on the information of laity in the 19th century from the cemetery, the data will be organized. This can help us to understand the historical development of Hong Kong lay people.
- Investigate the relationship between 19th century Catholic cemetery and Hong Kong society: Many western scholars agreed that cemetery is the product of western societies in the 19th century and is related to the process of secularization. However, in the same time zone, cemeteries in the colonial era are divided according to ethnicities and religions. Until now, St. Michael cemetery still keeps its Catholic religious identity. This is in stark contrast with the West. It is also related to the societal and evangelical development of Hong Kong at that time. Through arranging the archives and data of this cemetery, it is hoped that the relationship between 19th century Catholic cemetery and Hong Kong society can be explored.
The Centre has completed a database on St. Michael Cemetery, recording information of the death in the 19th century. A book namely “Michael and the Dragon” to promote knowledge of cemetery among the public has been published. A leaflet to introduce the relationships between the 19th century Catholic cemetery and Hong Kong society has been produced for the Diocesan Commission on Catholic Cemeteries. To arouse interest of the public, the Centre has organized study tours several times, and an educational kit on field trip study has been compiled for the Moral and Religious Education of Secondary Schools. On April 26, 2008 an academic conference was held in the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Fourteen papers or reports were presented and more than 70 people participated in the conference. The proceedings of this conference will be published very soon.