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Hong Kong As It Was

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 4)

Every household’s rooftop in the then Tiu Keng Leng had a Kuomingtang flag, an indication of the loyalty of the people to the Kuomingtang government in Taiwan, though it was this same government that had abandoned them.

A friend of mine lived in Lam Tian, near Tiu Keng Leng when she was small. “When it was the 10th October, the Double Ten day, I saw big banners hanging on the walls everywhere, celebrating the occasion. And the Kuomingtang flags were hoisted everywhere.” The Double Day is the national day for Republic of China, established in 1912 after the collapse of Qing Dynasty. It was and is celebrated in Taiwan after Kuomingtang ruled on the island. Since Lam Tian is near Tiu Keng Leng, many families who lived originally in Tiu Keng Leng, moved to Lam Tian.

Announcement of Demolition
People had been enjoying peaceful life in Tiu Keng Leng where they built up their home and their community from scratch after being abandoned. This clip on Youtube has captured the essence of the place before its demolition.

The peace was shattered in 1991. In view of the explosion in population and the need to develop new towns, the Hong Kong government decided to demolish Tiu Keng Leng starting 1991 and turn it into a new development area. It requested the Tiu Keng Leng residents to move out and offered them HK$7,000 per square feet as compensation.

Since the colonial government promised to the residents in1961 that they can reside permanently in Tiu Keng Leng, a legal battle ensured between the residents and the government. The court ruled in favour of the residents, saying that the government had broken its promise by evicting the residents and it needed to further discuss with the residents regarding compensation. But the court ruling had yielded no concrete benefits for the residents. Tiu Keng Leng was destined to be history.

It was late July in 1996 when I was a journalist reporting on the last few days of the life in Tiu Keng Leng before it was cleared. By that time, most of the residents had accepted government’s offer to move out. Only a few stuck out and insisted not to move.

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 1)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 2)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 3)

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Hong Kong As It Was

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 3)

By 1953, the Tiu Keng Leng refugee camp was already less isolated. At least there was ferry running between Tiu Keng Leng and Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣) on the Hong Kong island.

The relative convenience in transportation had opened up employment opportunities for the refugees who ventured out to find jobs to make a living. With newly found income, some of them started to build houses they could call their homes with wood and bricks to replace the tents they had been living in.

The refugees in Tiu Keng Leng. Some of them were obviously war veterans, injured and blinded in war

In 1953, the Hong Kong government stopped giving out free meals. And the Refugee Office was no longer run by the Hong Kong Government, but was supported by money from Taiwan, and run by the educated in the camp.

Since Kuomingtang was not able to bring all these people back to Taiwan, it decided, under the public pressure, to give them financial support. It imposed an entertainment tax in Taiwan, and transferred the money collected to help the Tiu Keng Leng refugees. The money had supported the set up of a primary and middle school, among other things.

Education Hub

Though the refugee camp population was only 6,000 to 7,000 large, it had 5 middle schools, 9 primary schools and 3 kindergartens at the peak of its education boom. Students from all over Hong Kong travelled to Tiu Keng Leng for schooling, making Tiu Keng Leng literally an education hub. Two reasons were behind the boom. One was that the schools charged very low school fees and provided textbooks for free, and outstanding students could be sponsored for university education in Taiwan. This attracted Hong Kong’s families, especially the poor ones, to send their children to Tiu Keng Leng for education.

Another reason was that the schools were able to provide quality education. This could be attributed to the dedicated and highly qualified teachers they hired, who were recruited from among the refugees living in Tiu Keng Leng, and who were intellectuals of the era, being university or middle school teachers themselves before escaping to Hong Kong. In the beginning, they volunteered to teach in these schools for no compensation in return. They deemed it their duty to teach the kids in the camp.

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 2)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 1)

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Hong Kong As It Was

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 2)

Life in the camp (photo source: unknown)

Isolation was a big issue for the refugees. To go to the outside world, they must hike the hills for three hours before reaching Lei Yu Men, the now famous seafood spot in HK, from where they could take a boat to Sai Wan Ho (西灣河) on the Hong Kong island.

There was no road inside and around the refugee camp area either. So the refugees organized themselves to construct a path crisscrossing the camp area. The men were in charge of the construction work while the women were responsible for cooking and delivering food and drink to the men.

Road Hero
Even the roads to the outside world were constructed by the refugees themselves. A former battalion commander of Kuomingtang named Xie Yuqun (謝雨群) volunteered to take charge and the refugees threw themselves into the construction tasks under Xie’s leadership. A road was built to shorten the journey time to Lei Yu Men to half an hour from 3 hours, from where the refugees could take ferry to the Hong Kong island.

This former commander was a legendary figure. He had constructed many roads for the residents of Tiu Keng Leng since, including the road leading to Cha Guo Ling (茶果嶺), and to Nau Tau Kwok (牛頭角). He had been doing this for 30 years until passing away. In the morning, he constructed roads and in the afternoon he helped others in the camp area to fix and construct houses.

In 1965, led by Xie Yuqun again, construction was underway to build a road connecting Tiu Keng Leng to Kowloon. When the road was opened in 1966, which is today’s Po Lam Road (寳林路), the government invited Xie for the opening ceremony.

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 1)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 3)

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Hong Kong As It Was

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)

Categories
Hong Kong As It Was

Hong Kong’s charming past

This rare footage featuring Hong Kong in 1938 with rickshaws, cheongsams, colonial buildings, the ordinary folk, pristine nature, is a strong reminder of Hong Kong’s past and the long way it has come. Hong Kong is still a wonderful place, but looking at the footage, I cannot help but think how much of the beautiful landscape the city once had, has been lost for the sake of economic development. 

The harbor was once so wide, teeming with fishing boats with sails – Hong Kong today has a narrow harbor with a re-made sailing fishing boat for tourist attraction only.  Many of the colonial and traditional arcade buildings have obviously been torn down. 

Some heritage remains though, like the Peak Tram. It stands the test of times – the track and the tram look just like today. So does the current Legislative Council building and the adjacent square in Central.

Take a look at this extraordinary clip about Hong Kong in the late 40s. You will be entertained and delightfully surprised.