Tucked away amid scrubland on a hillside, an abandoned primary school covered in mould has emerged as a potential "museum of childhood".
Collector and artist Joel Chung Yin-chai is trying to raise about HK$100 million to convert the old Man Ming School in Tai Mei Tuk, Tai Po, into a showcase for toys, comics and schoolbooks – some more than 100 years old.
The school was shut down more than a decade ago as student numbers dwindled, but Chung believes that once restored and reinvented, it could boost tourism in the area, which is popular with cyclists and for barbecues.
“Many of these schools were left behind as ruins after being killed off,” said Chung, who has the biggest collection of graffiti by the late “King of Kowloon” Tsang Tsou-choi. “The project can serve educational purposes and carve out an archive on childhood.”
Chung and his research team recently discovered more than 200 “dead” schools in villages across Hong Kong. Some had already been reduced to rubble.
Some of them yielded old scorecards, furniture and stationery dating back to the 1960s.
Chung has at least 30,000 antique and vintage toys, and at least 10,000 school-related documents plus heaps of comics and schoolbooks.
“We have no lack of content but we need a self-sustained business model to keep the planned museum going,” Chung said.
Chung said the Tai Po district council was supportive of the project, which fits into its plans to develop tourism development as the museum is located near the controversial artificial beach set to be developed at Lung Mei.
Councillor Au Chun-wah said he supported the idea of opening a toy museum at the abandoned school.
“If Mr Chung is able to raise the money needed to open the museum, it could be beneficial to the district’s tourism industry as the idea is special. I’m sure adults and children are both interested in visiting a toy museum as everyone plays with toys when they’re young,” said Au.
Meanwhile the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Hong Kong Toys Council are in talks with the Hong Kong Museum of History over holding a toy exhibition.
Toys Council committee member Yeung Chi-kong said the two trade bodies ultimately wanted to set up a permanent museum dedicated to toys produced in the city.
The toy industry was seen as a pillar industry during the city’s economic take-off in the 1970s, although manufacturing has since moved onto the mainland where costs are lower.
“Looking for a permanent location is challenging and we need expertise in maintaining the collection in a financially sustainable manner,” Yeung said. “We hope to start off with a medium-term exhibition by working with a local partner.”
A Museum of History spokeswoman said discussions were in the “initial” stages and that the three parties were looking into the feasibility of a three- to four-month exhibition.
Additional reporting by Johnny Tam and Shirley Zhao