Hong Kong villages at mercy of urban developers
After decades of rapid urban development, farming villages like Ma Shi Po are on the verge of extinction in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong doesn’t strike people as a city that promotes a back-to-nature lifestyle and the brutal truth is younger generations here don’t always have the luxury of interacting with nature. Many have “probably never been to a farmland,” according to Sandy Chan, an amateur environmental advocate.
A lot of arable farmland in Hong Kong has rapidly disappeared to make way for urban development in recent decades, often resulting in grievous friction between villagers and developers.
One example of this friction materialized at the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link protest in January last year, where protests were carried out near the Legislative Council Building.
Protesters were provoked by the government’s plan to bulldoze Tsoi Yuen village for the construction of the high-speed railway without the consent of all the villagers.
Another village to go
Similar to Tsoi Yuen village, Ma Shi Po village, located in the northeastern part of Fanling in the New Territories, is one of the few surviving sizable farming villages in Hong Kong. However, as a victim of the North East New Territories New Development Areas -- a major infrastructure project for private housing development -- made by the government in 1998, Ma Shi Po village is also slated for destruction.
For the past 14 years, developers have been taking advantage of loopholes in the system to evict farmers here for private housing construction, and according to Chan, only about 100 families remain there now.
Chan also said that although the Henderson Land Development Company is the proprietor of the village, it has largely “left the place to rot.” Houses have been torn down, releasing asbestos, leaving the village uninhabitable, which, according to Chan, is the developer’s way of evicting villagers without violence or causing any commotion, and making sure that the ones who leave will never return.
The houses that are still inhabitable are dilapidated with little furniture and rusted gates. A tour conducted by villagers suggests that a population of 100 families might be an overstatement.
Residents to move out
One of the remaining villagers, who introduces himself as Mr. Chow, has been living in the village for more than 30 years. “I am not sure when [the developers] are coming, but when they do, I’ll just have to leave,” he says.
Echoing Chow’s comment is a farmer who prefers to be called Ah Suk, a generic name for uncles or middle-aged men in Hong Kong. Although not an occupant of the Ma Shi Po village, Ah suk says he passes his days in the field with other villagers, like a family.
“When the developers finally come, I’ll spend my days elsewhere, maybe collecting carton boxes and aluminum cans for a living.” Ah Suk is slicing up sugar cane as he speaks, which he would ironically sell to a local supermarket chain owned by a giant property development conglomerate.
If Chow and Ah Suk sound fatalistic yet pragmatic about the imminent loss of their lifestyle, it’s because it's the culture that runs in the village. Amid all the social unrest, villagers in Ma Shi Po like Chow have stayed level-headed.
Fortunately, a group of people decided to stand up for the villagers, peacefully. Sandy Chan and her fellow amateur activists hosted an unplugged music show in Ma Shi Po village last November as an unruffled protest. It was aimed to help Hong Kongers acknowledge the quickly disappearing farming lifestyle in places like Ma Shi Po.
“There is a lot we can convey through music and lyrics. Acoustic sound and unfettered human voices can bring everyone back to the primitive days,” says Chan.
The music show attracted an audience of over 300 people, mostly below the age of 30, who found themselves lying on grass and soil, listening to tunes by local talent.
One young concert-goer, Chu Shu Yi, who attended the show with two friends, says she learnt about it from her friend’s Facebook posting and was immediately drawn to its “environmental message.”
Chu says, “I love the nature and being outdoors, but I had never been to local farmlands. I heard [this village] will soon be gone and I am glad I came.”
You may visit Ma Shi Po Village and even buy fresh product grew by local farmers. Take the MTR to Fanling, Exit A2 then catch minibus 52A, 54A or 56A, and hop off at Regentville. It's a one-minute-walk from there.
Tim submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page.