Hong Kong’s natural sceneries are gorgeous. For a small place, it boasts an abundance of geographic features.
A diversified landscape of mountains, valleys, rivers and hundreds of islands makes it a paradise for hikers.
But have you ever wondered what it was like a hundred years ago?
Since the cession of Hong Kong Island by the Qing dynasty to the British, reclamation projects have mushroomed along the coast, notably after World War II thanks to population explosion.
Victoria Harbor should be the most “unrecognizable” of all.
After landing at Possession Street in Hong Kong in 1841, the British forces began to change the face of Hong Kong Island.
The coastal area in the north of Hong Kong Island was linked to numerous small bays, with only a few villages.
The British began construction of Victoria Harbor starting from Sheung Wan, Central and Hai Wan (currently Wan Chai), extending the urban development in the east to Causeway Bay, Shau Kei Wan and Chai Wan.
In the search for the vanished original coastline, we could get some clues from the names of the streets and districts – Possession Street, Stone Nullah Lane, Canal Road, Wong Nai Chung, Tai Hang and Quarry Bay used to be exits of rivers and streams.
The spiritual sites of worship such as Hung Shing Temple, Pak Tai Temple and Tin Hau Temple also indicate the old coastline as they were all built by the sea.
How about Kowloon Peninsula?
Its coastline was dotted with capes, or “kok” such as Lai Chi Kok, Tai Kok Tsui, Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui, Ma Tou Kok, Ngau Tau Kok, and bays such as Cheung Sha Wan, Sham Shui Po, To Kwa Wan, Kowloon Bay, Ngau Chi Wan, etc.
Kowloon Walled City was initially situated in a bay into which rivers and streams from Kowloon’s ridges flowed. Now it is a commercial and business district named Kai Tak and Kowloon Bay.
Later, the former colonial government developed satellite cities in the New Territories.
Shatin was an area of mudflat while its ancient name Lek Yuen suggested that there was a stream of crystal clear water in the area.
Tsuen Wan was called Chin Wan, meaning a shallow beach. You would know Tseung Kwan O, or Junk Bay, as an inlet if you imagined there were no residential buildings in the area.
What they all had in common was the presence of water that could support settlements and agriculture.
Nowadays, the simple and charming rural sceneries have given way to a dazzling skyline. Who knows what Hong Kong will be like in another hundred years.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 15.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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