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Hong Kong housing

Digging up Hong Kong’s Qing dynasty past likely to delay development needed for its future

Urban Renewal Authority plans further excavation at city’s last urban walled village Nga Tsin Wai after previous discovery of historic foundations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 10:57am

The redevelopment of Hong Kong’s last urban walled village faces an uncertain future after the Urban Renewal Authority announced on Thursday that it had expanded an archaeological dig at the site.

Two years ago, the Post reported that foundations of four watchtowers built for the defence of the 664-year-old Nga Tsin Wai village in Wong Tai Sin had been discovered along with several relics believed to be 300 years old.

The authority began its expanded excavation earlier this year, and a full assessment report is expected by the end of 2018. Officials said there would be no redevelopment work at the site until the report is completed.

Built at the four corners of the village, the two-storey towers were erected in 1573. They stood more than seven metres high and were used to help protect the village from marauding pirates and bandits during China’s Taiping Rebellion in 1854.

The authority entered into a joint venture agreement in 2008 with Cheung Kong Property Holdings, now CK Asset Holdings Limited, to develop four residential towers at the site by 2023-24. The company acquired about 70 per cent of the property interests in the village.

Under the plan, three sites of historical significance – a Tin Hau temple, a gatehouse and a stone tablet – plus a few houses at the centre of the village would be preserved.

Before Thursday, few details had emerged on the findings or the results of the authority’s archaeological impact assessment, conducted between March and October 2016.

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The report said the brick of the watchtower’s foundation in the southwestern corner of the site were believed to be from the Qing dynasty, while the stones beneath were believed to be from the Ming or Qing dynasty.

The foundation found at the northeastern corner near the village gatehouse was confirmed to be from the Qing dynasty.

Michael Ma Chiu-tsee, the authority’s executive director, said the expanded excavation work began earlier this year after discussing the findings of their report with the Antiquities and Monuments Office.

Ma said the authority had since been granted a new permit allowing it to excavate five spots measuring 390 square metres in area – three times larger than the one in 2016.

He added the archaeological assessment was originally planned to start in 2012, but was suspended in 2013 because of opposition from villagers and environmentalists. It officially started in 2016 after the arrangement with the residents including acquisition, clearance and compensation was settled.

Ma refused to comment on the impact of the expanded excavation work on the schedule of the redevelopment project and preservation plans, saying they would decide after the report was finalised.

“We promise there will be no redevelopment works and we’ll not dismantle anything inside the walled village before the archaeological assessment report is done at the end of this year.”

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Lee Ho-yin, head of architectural conservation programmes at the University of Hong Kong, said Nga Tsin Wai village, as the only urban walled village, had important historical, architectural and social values.

He suggested the remains of watchtowers be preserved as exhibitions on the spot for people to relate to history.

“Social values are very important for collective attachment in cultural preservation,” he said.

Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo said the board would wait for the full report before considering any conservation plan.