• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 8:15am
NewsHong Kong
CONSERVATION

Hong Kong heritage policy a failure of historic proportions

The inadequacy of heritage policy is highlighted again by plight of unique grade-1 listed walled village

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 10:34am

Hong Kong's unique, 500-year-old walled village of Kat Hing Wai now features a concrete ditch rather than a moat and has only about 20 old houses left - three years after being given a grade-one historic status.

The sorry state of the Yuen Long village again illustrates the need for the government to consider more forceful measures for conservation, and it follows the failure of a report on conservation policy to address the issue.

The report, carried out for the government by consultancy GHK and released on Tuesday, does suggest setting up a HK$900 million heritage trust. However, it would not be expected to buy up privately owned heritage buildings, at least in its early years.

Because the Kat Hing Wai grading - given to sites of "outstanding merits of which every effort should be made to preserve if possible" - covers only the wall, the four watchtowers, the gates and a shrine, the village inside has lost much of its atmosphere.

And some villagers would like the grading removed as it stands in the way of redevelopment.

Most of the 150 houses left in the village are modern, redeveloped in the past few decades. Only 21 of the old grey-brick houses are intact.

When the Post visited last week, one of those houses was being renovated. Workers were hammering away with little visible concern for conserving original features.

Another five old houses have collapsed, weeds growing amid the debris. Only a few of the remaining houses appear to be lived in; the others are locked up or used for storage, with a traditional rice grinder and a motorcycle seen among the items inside.

"Some fellows here want an expiry date for the grading," said village representative Tang Kwok-ki. "They are worried the wall will stand in the way when they want to build more houses."

He said the owners of the collapsed or abandoned houses had died or emigrated.

The moat that once ringed the village was filled in decades ago, leaving just one tree-lined stretch. Now, drainage work started in 2010 by the Yuen Long District Office has narrowed that to a channel barely a metre wide.

This is despite the council's promise to the Conservancy Association that this last section would be restored. Tang said the drainage work was necessary as the moat had been heavily polluted, "but I do hope officials will make the moat look better and put fish back in".

The district office says, at the request of villagers, it will be doing more work on the channel in June to "beautify the surface by laying suitable tiles".

Sam Tang, who owns one of the old houses, recalled playing in the moat as a child 40 years ago. "We rowed boats and caught fish there. The water was clear and didn't smell. It was only later that people threw rubbish in it."

Tang said he would not want his property graded as he wanted to redevelop it when he had the money, as his brothers had done.

Asked why houses had not been included in the grading, the antiquities office said there had been no such suggestion during public consultation.

Anthony Siu Kwok-kin, a member of the panel that proposes gradings, said he hoped the ongoing heritage policy review would find a solution to preserving privately owned buildings. "We don't have a fund to acquire buildings. The review should … draw up criteria for this," he said.

 

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This article is now closed to comments

Dai Muff
Hong Kong people make a big hooh-ha about caring for the past, and for tradition, but money wins every single time.
pindarwong
Perhaps there is also a failure of imagination.
HK is clearly losing its heritage sites and should investigate how 3D laser scanning technology, that exist *today*, can be used to scan these sites to help digitally preserve them. This was done a few years ago by the HK Government's own Civil Engineering and Development Department for the old Star Ferry.
Once this data is captured it can be shared and rendered in different ways, for example using 3D visualization tools as they exist at City U's ALIVE lab, or perhaps we might even imagine that we use MIT's 3D printers to recreate them.
As far as I can tell, HK has all of the technology and skills in try a 'proof of policy'. Perhaps we could start with laser scanning the Ho Tung Gardens that is scheduled to be demolished.
We can do this! See Ben Kacyra's TED talk on 'Ancient Wonders Captured in 3D'
gkuhl
And after scanning the whole village, we get the bulldozers to build a nice mall with a lot of fancy shops?
Loolyhead
I love both comments above...very practical and very HK. I think we have to take a step back and ask ourselves what is the point of keeping these "historic" sites to begin with! In all other Nations, they do it cos there is HISTORY to it and the schools are taught history of their nations. In HK, has anyone read history of HK? Not my generation, not 50s, 60s and I doubt the latter years either. SO, where is the sense of value in these relics when no one seems to know its history let alone care? Neither are we marketing these relics for tourism purposes...we travel around the old Europe to see all the palaces and castles etc...but do we promote the same for tourists to HK? HK bases its tourism on its 'modernisation', the metropolis of Asia, see the trailer...nothing about the history...apart from a little on the Chinese Culture in general and our food but not even our infamous "DAI PAI DONG" and that has gone out the window with the rest of our onslaught for the quest to modernise...
If HK has any historical preservation sense at all, and of significance to the HISTORY of HK, the old "QUEEN's PIER" should have remained. It is a symbol (good or bad) of the old Colonial power and the history of our Island past.
Fare de well my old HK, the tide and time have washed all that away and laid it to rest with just old folks tales and few survivors of the old who witnessed the changes, the war and the peace there after. Good luck to more built and prosperity.

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