Reminiscences: Life in Hong Kong's Built Heritage
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Birth and Home

Hello everyone! My name is Ying-wo. I am the eldest son in the family, and I have two brothers and two sisters.

I was delivered by our neighbours, old Auntie Yung and Auntie Cheung in 1920 in our home in Kat Hing Wai, Kam Tin, Yuen Long, the New Territories.

Kat Hing Wai is a walled village, settled by the Tang clan of Kam Tin more than 500 years ago. The village is enclosed by grey brick walls on four sides, with watchtowers on four corners. The iron entrance gates were once taken away by the British before I was born. When I was five, they were returned to the village for reinstallation, but only after repeated intercessions by my uncle, Tang Pak-kau. Besides this walled village, there are many ancestral halls, temples and study halls in Kam Tin, which we frequented all the time in our childhood.

There are many traditional customs in walled villages. The first ritual I ever joined was the annual lantern-lighting ceremony, held from the twelfth to the fifteenth day of the first lunar month in Tang Tsing Lok Ancestral Hall. On the twelfth day, a small oil lamp is lit in the ancestral hall for each newborn boy in the clan and these are all put together into a large overhead lantern. So, in the first month of the lunar year after my birth, my dad lit an oil lamp for me, and on the fifteenth day, my mom prepared “newborn boy’s porridge” and other auspicious dishes to share with the clan elders in the ancestral hall. My identity in the clan was recognised with my name added to the clan’s genealogy.

Kat Hing Wai

Kat Hing Wai was built during the Chenghua reign (1465-1487) of the Ming dynasty. The walls were constructed in the early Qing period with watchtowers and gun loopholes on all four corners and a pair of chained-ring iron gates at the main entrance. The enclosing walls were once surrounded by a moat. In 1899, the iron gates were violently removed by the British when the New Territories were leased to them. Later a squire named Tang Pak-kau sent a petition to the Hong Kong government, and the gates were finally returned and reinstalled in 1925.

Tang Tsing Lok Ancestral Hall

Tang Tsing Lok Ancestral Hall was built between the late Ming and early Qing periods to commemorate Tang Tsing-lok, the seventeenth generation ancestor of the Tang clan in Guangdong Province. This grey brick building belongs to an architectural style that comprises three halls with two courtyards. The ancestral hall has been used by the descendants of Tang Tsing-lok as a place for worship, festivals and clan gatherings. The lantern-lighting ceremony for newborn male offspring is still held here annually from the twelfth to the fifteenth days of the first lunar month.

Hello! I’m Mary. I have one younger brother and two younger sisters.

I was born in 1923 in Tsan Yuk Hospital on Western Street in Sai Ying Pun. Tsan Yuk Hospital was the first maternity hospital for Chinese in Hong Kong. All the midwives there had received formal training in obstetrics in Western medicine. They had a good reputation, so my siblings and I were all born in this hospital.

Our family lived in a tenement house at 72 Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai. At the time, there was a stone nullah with water running from the hillside catchment behind Yuk Hui Temple into Stone Nullah Lane. There was no tap water at the time, so the residents went to the nullah to get water for bathing, laundry and drinking. I once walked up the hill with my aunt, and the higher we climbed, the clearer the water was. At the top of the hill, we could see Hei Lo in the distance with its red walls and green tiles.

There were no flush toilets in the tenement houses before the Second World War. Scavengers would come to collect “night soil” during the night; this was called “pouring night fragrance”. The numbers and markings on the wooden staircase in our building were related to this nightly collection. The human waste was shipped to the Mainland, where it was used as fertiliser.

Old Tsan Yuk Hospital

The old Tsan Yuk Hospital, built in 1922, was the first maternity hospital for Chinese in Hong Kong. Its red brick construction is a form of Neo-classical architecture. Later, the hospital accommodated an academic and placement hospital for the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology of The University of Hong Kong. In 1955, the hospital was moved to a new location, and in 1973, the building was converted into Western Community Centre.

Blue House, 72-74A Stone Nullah Lane

The Blue House is a four-storey brick-and-timber structure, built in the early 1920s. It used to have shops on ground floor with residents living on the other floors. Among the shops is a stone plaque from “Wah To Hospital”, placed there in 1867. On the front of the Blue House are cantilevered balconies with wrought iron railings in geometric patterns. The blue facade has become a Wan Chai landmark. The Blue House and its nearby tenement houses are part of a new revitalisation project with the theme “Retention of Both Premises and Tenants”. The project includes heritage housing, along with catering, cultural and educational activities, and is named “Viva Blue House“. It was completed in 2017.

Yuk Hui Temple

Yuk Hui Temple was built in 1863 to worship Pak Tai (God of the North), to allow both land residents and fishermen to seek the god’s protection and blessings. The temple has a two-hall layout. The roof ridge of the temple is decorated with delicate Shiwan ceramics. The stone plaque at the main entrance has the Chinese words "Yuk Hui Kung", written by Cheung Yuk-tong, a high-ranking military official in the Qing dynasty. A statue of Pak Tai, cast in the thirty-second year of the Wangli reign (1604) and now a valuable antique, is kept inside the temple.

King Yin Lei (Hei Lo)

Built around 1937, Hei Lo was a famous mansion, rare among the Chinese residences in Mid-Levels. In 1978, it was sold and later renamed “King Yin Lei”. King Yin Lei is a lovely blend of Chinese and Western architecture: the roof is paved with Chinese glazed tiles, while the main structure is constructed of reinforced concrete and red bricks, with exquisite terrazzo and stucco mouldings. It stands out as a masterpiece among such buildings in Hong Kong.


  • Kat Hing Wai

  • Enclosing wall and main entrance of Kat Hing Wai

  • Enclosing wall, watchtower and moat of Kat Hing Wai

  • Tang Tsing Lok Ancestral Hall


  • Lantern-lighting Ceremony at Tang Tsing Lok Ancestral Hall in Kam Tin