How Hong Kong can preserve the living history of Tai O fishing village, despite mass tourism
- The government should promote sustainable and responsible tourism in Tai O, with locals serving as cultural intermediaries and on-site guides
Tai O is a living cultural landscape in Hong Kong’s New Territories. The stilt houses of this fishing village demonstrate how the Tanka people adapted to their living environment and utilised available natural resources. In reflecting the move from boats to houses, the structures symbolise the passage from tradition to modernity in this close-knit community of indigenous people with its unique socio-economic and cultural character.
Locally produced shrimp paste and shrimp paste blocks are the most iconic souvenirs from the village, though – since a trawling ban imposed on January 1, 2013 – most of the raw material is sourced from the mainland. Locally produced versions with a history of about a century have their unique processing methods, with the richer taste and texture setting them apart from mass-produced brands.
Unfortunately, with gradual economic transformation, interest in the sector is declining. Fewer younger Hongkongers are willing to work in this physically demanding business for unstable returns. Meanwhile, although mass tourism to this unique community on stilts can generate revenue and create job opportunities, the influx of visitors is also diminishing Tai O’s character of a sleepy fishing village.
The government should promote sustainable and responsible tourism in Tai O. Residents could serve as cultural intermediaries and on-site guides, sharing their first-hand experience of life in the village, allowing visitors to better appreciate their cultural heritage and the preservation of local traditions.
Through genuine community involvement, locals can be empowered with a sense of ownership and pride, while visitors can have a greater understanding of the architecture and history of the site. In fact, it is time to designate Tai O fishing village as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Adrian Lam, Taikoo