Passing by 50 years- The story of Kwun Tong
The history of Kwun Tong originated in the Song Dynasty which was approximately 700 years ago. At that time, Hong Kong could not be found on the map and people hardly knew anything about it. Flipping over the historical document, Xinan Gazetteer, Kwun Tong was formerly called ‘Koon Fu Cheng’ or ‘Koon Tong’, naming after the governmental salt yards. The heart of the town was not in Yue Man Square but in Cha Kwo Ling and the Ngau Tau Kok villages. Time flies and everything has changed. The prosperity of the past salt yards could no longer be found in today's world. To talk about today's Kwun Tong, we ought to start talking from the early 1950s.
The first generation of Kwun Tong “redevelopment”
After war, the Government investigated into the expansion of industrial lands and Kwun Tong was one of the chosen sites. Why? The major reason was based on its advantageous geography. At that time, Kwun Tong was near the urban area and the Kwun Tong Road was still an overhanging cliff. There was a small massif (Black Hill) above the Yue Man Square. By removing it, there would be enough soil for reclamation. Unlike those original habitants in Tsuen Wan who needed to resolve their resettling problems, there were less people being influenced by the reclamation project. There were only some mud-larks who lived in the log cabins near the seaside garbage heap. They were the first generation that was influenced by the Kwun Tong “Redevelopment” Project. Fortunately, the resettlement went on smoothly and people continually moved to the Ngau Tau Kok Resettlement Estate in 1955.
Kwun Tong is the first new town in Hong Kong and it was formerly called the Satellite City. We used to separate the ideas from one another but the reconstruction of Kwun Tong had been influencing many other urban designs such as Tsuen Wan and Shatin. Some scholars believed that Kwun Tong was an unsuccessful outcome of the scheme. Yet, it is interesting to find that a lot of sociologists regarded it as a research object of the industrial community and they sought after Kwun Tong community culture such as the folk's religious activities and the running of civil organizations etc.
Undeniably, the current design of Kwun Tong has a huge difference from the past. According to Ebenezer Howard in the 19th century, the conceptual idea of ‘Garden city’ would planned Kwun Tong into residential, industrial and commercial districts separately. This was to establish a low-density yet self-sufficient community. At the beginning of Kwun Tong's development, the traffic was not very inconvenient and there was not a lot of public transportation. After the 1967’s riot, more bus traffic lines were founded. 60 years ago, there were only a few Kwun Tong habitants. Most of them were affected by the urban redevelopment projects and were resettled in Kwun Tong which was far away from the city at that time. For instance, Kai Liu Resettlement Estate (the present Tsui Ping Estate) was for settling the moving residents of Lo Fu Ngam (the present Lok Fu) Lo Fu Mei village and Tung Tau Resettlement Estate. The resettled Kwun Tong residents became the major factor of the prosperous industrial development. They offered a vast amount of cheap labor force and provided profuse human resources to the factory owners. Instead of saying that Kwun Tong was self-sufficient, she was the factory owners’ desired industrial village. The workers’ dormitories were all kinds of resettlement estates and log cabins while the managerial dormitories were located at the mid-level’s Yuet Wah Street despite of its lacking of social facilities like City Hall, sport courts, library etc.
The low density population did not make things work out and that was related to the previous environment. According to the 60s’s construction design, the Yan Oi Court today should be the Kwun Tong City Hall; the hawkers market today was an open space; Yan Oi Court bus stop originally was a courtyard. Unfortunately, a mass of mainland China migrants altered everything. In order to deal with the rapid population growth and the enormous rise of urban density, many items were added in or on top of the buildings. Kwun Tong was no longer as methodical as the government top down planning but the ordinary people’s living space. The roof top became rooftop primary schools and rooftop housings; the street became small stalls and vendor floor stalls. Yan Oi Court’s residence became the centre of family industry and it encountered the daily needs. This was the fundamental idea of the peoples planning.
The struggling behind spaces
The industrialization of Kwun Tong brought in profits to the capitalists and provided jobs to the habitants as well as introduced certain challenges to the Government. Apart from the insufficient social facilities problem, the early Kwun Tong history also showed that it could not be separated from the mainland China’s political changes. Within the large industrial village, most of the workers were refugees who were affected by the mainland politics and poor economy and some were affected by the redevelopment and resettlement. Perhaps they did not need to worry about their jobs but they were bearing with all kinds of environmental problems and air pollution brought by Industrialization. Increasing numbers of migrants also created pressure in civil welfare and security. These problems were not directly faced by the colonial Government.
Different parties were ably formed under such environment. The left wing worker organization was one of the representative examples. The Hong Kong 1967 riots was a turning point of Hong Kong and it also had tremendous influence on Kwun Tong. The well-known left-wing cinema, Silver Cinema was broken in by a group of policemen. Armaments and advertising products were found. Its license was invalidated. Until today, Kwun Tong and North Point were still the centers of the left wing. According to a certain old habitants’ memory, Kwun Tong was still pervaded by a political atmosphere. In the past, there were lots of Chinese flags spreading all over the streets of city centre in every October. It echoes with the same district Tiu Keng Leng’s Blue Sky with White Sun flags. Everything is like saluting to the republicans who were on their way home.
Apart from political ideology, different ethnic groups also helped to shape Kwun Tong’s culture and spaces. Migrants came from Chaozhou, Indonesia and South Asia were all connected through race and kinship. This formed different urban villages. Walking pass the pre-reconstructed city centre, there are different small signboards related to ethnic groups, such as Tung Kun Kinship Society , Kai Ping Hairdresser, Hui Hai minibus station, PAKISTAN. In every Ghost Festival in the seventh lunar month, Chaozhou people will play drama, worship Guan Yin and Ghost King in the park of city centre and Hong Ning Road Recreation Ground. And in every Ksitigarbha Festival in the tenth lunar month, people will play traditional Chao Zhou styled drama in Kai Liu Estate. In the early days, Government seldom intervened social welfare. The ethnic cohesion and self-help formed a local-oriented social network. They helped out and looked after each other. Today, this becomes the care for disadvantaged minority and it formulates different characteristic ethnic culture.
After 1967, Government was conscious of fostering regional administration. The authoritative styled Kwun Tong Kaifong Welfare was established in 1968. In the 70s, Kwun Tong was named as the ‘Little Hong Kong’ as it had the both of the left wing and the right wing group as well as a lot of public housings and private estates. Also, there were different ethnic groups, such as Chaozhou and Ho-Loh. It was a one-sided mirror to reflect the entire situation of Hong Kong. Kwun Tong became an experimental ground for many policy implementations. For example, it was the first urban district to establish District Council and Mutual Aids Committees. It was only after the success of Kwun Tong that the policies were implemented in Hong Kong.
Living in the haze of reconstruction
With more public houses to be built, it was not a problem for Kwun Tong to be a public housing city for 600 thousand people. More than 60% are public houses. The city centre of Kwun Tong continued to be the heart of economy and society, providing cheap goods and public services.
The development of MTR turns Kwun Tong into an urban city. It brings convenience and property development. In the end of 80s and the beginning of 90s, industrial services were well-established and real estate changed Kwun Tong thoroughly. Industry and real estate were always incompatible. The price of real estate always depended on the industrial cost. The real estate industry had the final victory. Industrial owners and their capitals could be invested in China but the workers could not leave. The poor economy was one of the results of de-industrialization. The dock was rebuilt as large residential estates (e.g. Laguna City). Abou ten years, the Kowloon Bay industrial area which finished reclamation in 1990 changed into a commercially used land. The redevelopment devastated industrial estates and changed them into commercial estates or shopping malls for the sake of developers. Meanwhile, a lot of artists rented places in the industrial areas with a cheaper price. They developed the creative industry and Kwun Tong became the one of the most important clusters of Hong Kong film industry. The largest art gallery could also be found in there.
Since the Land Development Corporation (the former Urban Renewal Authority) announced the redevelopment of town centre in 1989. Over the past 20 years, a lot of habitants have come across the Freezing Survey for thrice. They always thought that the redevelopment would soon be implemented. This resulted in the enormous decline of the estate’s quality over the last 20 years and it seriously affected the people’s lives. It was until 2008 that Urban Renewal Authority formally implemented the redevelopment.
In the redevelopment conducted by the Urban Renewal Authority, more than 5000 residents or shop owners have to move out with compensation but do not have the choice to move back. 5.35 hectare of redevelopment, its redevelopment area is 7 times of the project of the Langham Place in Mong Kok. The consumptions of the grass-root, including the shops and bazaars are less than 1 % of the total building area. Streets such as Yue Man Sqaure, Tong Yan Street, Yan Oi Court and Yan Shun Lane are going to disappear on the map forever, leaving the shopping malls and platforms behind. What would Kwun Tong, the grass root people-oriented community be in the future?
* A century of Kowloon roads and streets , Cheng Po-hung & Toong Po-ming
Reports from NGO or political party
* Kwun Tong Methodist Social Service annual report
* Hong Kong mass transit further studies : final report. (1970) Hong Kong : Government Printer
* A Chinese spirit-medium temple in Kwun Tong : a preliminary report / by John T. Myers with the collaboration of Davy Leung
Religious and customs
The History in Kwuntong
The street culture in Kwuntong, please read this book : Street Studies in Hong Kong: localities in a Chinese city: Kwuntong (1987), Writer : Frank leeming
Characteristics of the community
Institutions in Kwuntong
Organizations and government agencies
Old pictures in Hong Kong and Kwuntong(in Chinese)
Socio-history Table (#Source: The years of Kai Fong Association's annual report)