Residents fight on to save walled village

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2003, 12:00am

Residents are continuing their fight to save the centuries-old walled village of Nga Tsin Wai, despite government claims that nothing can protect it from demolition.

The 13th-century village, hailed as the last relic of Kowloon's rural past, will stage a protest on Saturday to try to stop the settlement from being cleared to make way for a high-rise development.

A 10-day territory-wide signature campaign will also be launched, at the end of which a petition will be handed to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and local deputies of the National People's Congress.

Debate surrounding the ancient village, in the heart of Kowloon City, came to a head last month when the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, told lawmakers it was impossible to preserve it as most of the houses had been bought by a developer and had already been torn down.

Village representative Leung Sik-lun said the weekend protest, which will also be attended by concerned academics and legislators, was partly in response to Mr Suen's remarks, which were made during a Legislative Council planning, lands and works panel meeting.

'We demand he retract his remarks . . . he should not make a one-sided decision without consulting us,' Mr Leung said.

In August, Cheung Kong (Holdings), which has bought and demolished about 70 per cent of the village, was given approval to build four commercial and residential buildings in the area.

Village head Ng Kau said between 100 and 200 people still live in the 30 to 40 houses that remain in the village, compared with more than 100 houses in its heyday.

But although signs on the village's outskirts announce plans for both nine and 20-storey flats, offices and shops, no timetable is mentioned.

'Whether the government is going to preserve our houses or not, at least they could tell us about the arrangement and the time [when the construction will start],' said Mr Ng.

He said it was ironic that the village had survived Japanese occupation and 156 years of colonial rule, only to face demolition under Chinese rule.

The 75-year-old claimed his ancestors were among the earliest to arrive in the territory and live in the village.

'I always want to preserve the place. Many of my sons and grandsons have migrated overseas. Whenever they come back, I will bring them here and tell them it is my place of origin,' Mr Ng said, adding that the village could become a tourist attraction.

But despite repeated attempts by villagers and concerned district councillors and legislators, the government is standing firm.

A spokeswoman from the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) said the Antiquities Advisory Board did not have any intention of saving the village.

'It is not felt that there is any monument worth preserving,' she said.

A Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau spokeswoman also stressed yesterday that it was too late to save the area.

But local historian Ko Tim-keung accused the AMO of being narrow-minded.

'They should not judge the village from individual spots [houses], they should regard it as a whole, and a comprehensive structure,' he said, adding that it was a visual record of pre-British settlement.

Echoing his views, Patrick Hase, president of the Royal Asiatic Society (Hong Kong), said the village represented the special administrative region's rural culture and the lives of the poor dating back to the Song dynasty.

'Do they [the government] want the next generations to believe that Hong Kong is entirely a creation of the British?' he said.

Cheung Kong did not answer queries regarding the development yesterday.