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Uniquely HK

Feature Story

Landmarks of Hong Kong’s Development

Embark on a fun and fascinating tour of Hong Kong sites that shine a light on the city’s unique history.
 
 
Hong Kong’s spectacular development from a handful of fishing villages into a global city – this frenetic melting pot where East meets West – fascinates visitors and locals alike. The territory’s British governance fruitfully combined with the indomitable spirit, resourcefulness and hard work of Hong Kong people through the ages to create the stunning success we see today. 
 
Amid the hustle and bustle, it can be quite a challenge for visitors to systematically explore the city for markers and remnants of this illustrious history, hidden beneath layers of regeneration. Fear not! We have put together this quick guide to delineate Hong Kong’s development periods, identify interesting landmarks to explore, and combine them with other sightseeing activities so you can enjoy discovering our proud history.
 
Pre-colonial development
 
Before the arrival of the British during the Opium War (1839-1842), Hong Kong consisted of just a few remote fishing villages and rural hamlets, though with a settlement history of over 2000 years, having flourished during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th Century as a trading port before the coastal retreat policy of the Ming and Qing Dynasties vacated the area. 
 
Thankfully, vestiges of this pre-colonial heritage still exist, consisting mostly of temples and old villages, and all are worth visiting. One such is Song Wong Toi (Terrace of Song emperors), originally a large boulder engraved to commemorate the exile presence of two boy emperors of the Song Dynasty in the 12th century. Part of the boulder with the original inscription survived and was placed in a memorial park adjacent to the former Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon City. You may also wish to visit the 
nearby Kowloon Walled City Parkwhich recalls another colourful chapter of the city’s history from the late 1800s on until the 1980s.
 
 
Tai Miu, Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay, located on the south side of Clearwater Bay Peninsula in Fat Tong Mun, is the oldest Tin Hau Temple in Hong Kong, dating back to 1266 AD. A stone inscription dated 1274 commemorates its completion. The tranquil temple is large and stately and sits right by the waterfront. You can reach it via a short walk from the entrance of Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club, which is accessible by public transport.
 
 
Tai  O  fishing  village, a favourite tourist destination on Lantau Island where locals, mainly fishermen, still live on stilted houses over the water, as they have for centuries. Make the visit a day tour of Lantau along with the Big Buddha, Ngong Ping Village, and the beaches on south Lantau.
 
Even before the British arrived, European ships would stop by Hong Kong Island for the sailors to replenish their freshwater supply from a small waterfall in what is now called Waterfall Bay, next to Cyberport on the southwest of Hong Kong Island. It’s an enchanting walk to this hidden gem, just behind the public housing estate of Wah Fu.
 
Arrival of the British
 
 
When the British fleet first landed in Hong Kong, the road leading to its camp (now Hollywood Road Park) was named Possession Streetand the landing point Possession Point. Today there remain no identifiable traces of the street, but the immediate locality, now called Sheung Wan, has turned into a tony neighbourhood of trendy bars and restaurants, where expatriate neighbourhoods mingle with antique shops and art galleries.
 
 
Much of Hong Kong Island’s natural coastline was defined by steep hillsides that cut almost directly into the sea. The flat land that today forms the beating heart of the city – other than Happy Valley – has been reclaimed in multiple phases over the intervening years. You can catch glimpses of the original coastline along Queen Road’s East and Queen Road’s Central. At the Former French Mission Building, next to Cheung Kong Centre in Central, the impressive original sea wall still supports the building; everything from there to the harbourfront is man-made!
 
Building a civil society
 
A vital but less heralded aspect of Hong Kong’s development is the emergence of civil society: churches, schools, hospitals, charities, banks, courts, police and jails to uphold the rule of law; and of course roads and transport. There is no better place to get a feel for this infrastructure than Central and Sheung Wan.
 
Names of roads
 
 
Thanks to the fondness of the British for celebrating their empire, most early roads built were named after royals or government officials. Queen’s Road (East, West, and Central) – stretching from Wanchai to Kennedy Town – is perhaps the best-known. In case you wonder, Queen’s Roadwas named not for Queen Elizabeth II, but for Queen Victoria, whose reign (1837-1901) encompassed the rise of the ‘Pearl of the Orient’. She lives on also in the formal names of the harbour and the Peak. More features that commemorate the colony’s governors and other notables include Nathan Road, Kowloon’s main thoroughfare; Pottinger Street, for the first governor, Des Voeux Road; Hennessy Road; Robinson Roadand many more. The Cantonese phoneticisation of these English names can be challenging tongue twisters for local people. Street names were all retained after the Handover, helping to preserve a distinctive aspect of Hong Kong’s past.
 
Institutions
 
Wherever the British established a colony, churches were soon erected. St. John’s Cathedral (Anglican) in Central is one of the first places of worship built in the Territory, while the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Caine Road is now home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. Both are historical landmarks worth visiting. Education was another immediate need, and many of Hong Kong’s earliest schools were run by missionaries. The Hong Kong Universityin Pok Fu Lam, which opened its doors in 1912, is now a historical landmark and well worth a visit.
 
Establishing the rule of law was key to Hong Kong’s development. Visit the Police Museumon Stubbs Road above Wanchai for a fascinating journey through Hong Kong’s battle to establish law and order. The result: Hong Kong is now one of the safest cities in the world. Charity is foundational to a civil society and a visit to the Causeway Bay headquarters of Po Leung Kukreveals one of the longest-standing charities in the city. Sport helps to bind a community and the establishment of Happy Valley Racecourse in 1845 launched Hong Kong’s passion for the popular British pastime of horseracing. Be sure to visit the Hong Kong Jockey 
Clubat one of its two racecourses – Happy Valley or Shatin – for an exciting day or evening out to catch the fever.
 
Transport
 
 
Early public transport services were the tram and the ferry, both of which are still with us today. Not so long-lived were the rickshaws and junks, but they remain resonant symbols of Hong Kong. Be sure to hop on a tramon Hong Kong Island and enjoy the hum of the city streets from this classic vantage point. A trip across the harbour on the iconic Star Ferryis also a must.
 
The great expansion
 
 
Hong Kong’s population multiplied with the deluge of refugees that fled China during and after the Communist revolution in 1949. The influx dramatically transformed the city: wealthy financiers and industrialists, mostly from Shanghai, brought capital and entrepreneurial know-how, while the many refugees were the adaptable workforce. The factories that popped up in the 50s and 60s pumped out toys, garments, electronics products and more, unknowingly building the “Made in Hong Kong” brand that became globally familiar. The rapid expansion created severe space shortages in both housing and factories, forcing Hong Kong to adapt. Public housing estates were created, including flatted factories estates built to accommodate the mom-and-pop sweatshops. Visit Shek Kip Mei, site of the first public housing estate and tour Mei Ho House, one of the original buildings preserved and converted into a youth hostel, and the nearby Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, converted from a flatted factory building.
 
 
 
(Edited on 10/4/17)

 

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