History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 1)

Intro

As a tourist to Hong Kong, you probably have taken or will take MTR, the city’s main transport system. And you probably go to the typical tourist places like Tsim Sha Tsui, Mongkok, Causeway or Central. Have you ever wondered what dozens of other places on the MTR lines are like? Maybe they are interesting places to see? Some intriguing history stories about them?

Here in this space, I am going to tell you some history stories of Hong Kong, and I will start with a name you will find on the MTR Tseng Kwan O line – Tiu Keng Leng.

Tiu Keng Leng MTR station
Tiu Keng Leng area now is a new development area, packed with mostly public housing

Tiu Keng Leng

On 26 June, 1950, several ferries transported 7,000 refugees towards a place called Diu Keng Leng, now called Tiu Keng Leng. When they boarded the place, they found it abandoned and isolated, virtually nothing except for some A-shaped sheds made of oil paper and sticks quickly built by the then Hong Kong colonial government in a matter of days to house thousands of them.

Diu Keng Leng literally means “hanging the neck” hill, where a retired Canadian official named Albert Herbert Rennie bought the land and ran a mill for manufacturing flour but the business was bankrupt in three years’ time. He hanged himself and the place was consequently named after the incident. When the refugees were moved here, the place had a level ground previously belonging to the mill and that was about all.

Wild dogs. Wild grass. No roads. No running water. No electricity. The refugees were basically dumped here by the Hong Kong colonial government. They had virtually nothing, except for the stuff they still had with them after they started escape.

The Refugees

Who were these refugees? They were people left behind by the Nationalist Party, also known as Kuomingtang, which escaped to Taiwan in 1949 after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party in China’s civil war. Many of them were government officials, military commanders and intellectuals, who were forced to flee to Hong Kong for shelter, waiting for their government to bring them to Taiwan. But for most of them, the wait was a life time. They ended up spending the rest of their lives in Hong Kong and died here.

Before they were ferried to Diu Keng Leng, the refugees lived on the Mount Davis for a few months, which was a rock hill used by the British military to defend Hong Kong against Japanese invasion during the Second World War. Only the abandoned barracks were left when the refugees flooded in. They had to put up shamble sheds themselves, using rags, straw mats and oil papers. The only wood structure on the hill belonged to the refugee office of the Tung Wah Hospital, then the city’s only charitable organization with a mission to help the Chinese in need. No public toilet. No running water. In the hot summer the hill was covered in unbearable stench, from the heat mixing with human excretion.

In early June of 1950, some communist trade union members and students came to the camp, dancing Yang Ge, a northern China dance promoted by the Communist Party as a revolutionary dance. The pro-Kuomingtang refugees were furious, and a fight ensued between the two sides, leading to causalities. To avoid further confrontation, the Hong Kong colonial government decided to move the refugees to a remote place, much further away from the city. They landed at Diu Keng Leng.

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 2)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 3)

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