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Chinese Merchants and Town Building in HK


Chinese Merchants and Town Building in HK

Hong Kong has gone through reclamations for 170 odd years. Since the establishment of the City of Victoria in early Hong Kong, Chinese merchants have been playing an important contributive role in land and new city development.

In May 1841, the British army was only occupying a barren Hong Kong Island. According to the demographic statistics published in the “Hong Kong Gazette”, the total population of Hong Kong Island back then was only 7 450. As financial resources were limited, the Hong Kong Government soon conducted her first ever land auction in Macau, and 404 pieces of land were sold to fund government operations.

In the meantime, in order to ensure that European merchants have enough land for trading activities, through the land auction, the government deliberately marked areas for Chinese people in the upper market (i.e. the vicinity of Gough Street and Hollywood Road in Central) and the lower market (i.e. near Bonham Strand in Sheung Wan), with a view to implementing the separate governance of Chinese and non-Chinese. However, with the rapid development of trading in Central and the sharp increase in the Chinese population, the government moved the Chinese people again from the upper market to the Tai Ping Shan District in Sheung Wan in 1844. Since then, more and more Chinese people lived in Sheung Wan, and it turned into a crowded environment.

On December 28, 1851, a big fire broke out in the lower market in Sheung Wan, which indirectly led to the first ever reclamation in Hong Kong, thereby extending the City of Victoria to the West.

Later on, the influx of refugees moving south to Hong Kong due to the Taiping Rebellion in the Mainland had led to a sharp increase in the population. To address this problem, the government began to develop Sai Ying Pun. At that time, Li Sing followed his elder brother, Li Leung, to come to Hong Kong to start their business, and they bought many land in Sai Wan in 1857. Apart from the construction of piers, godowns and native banks, they also made huge profits by reselling land and properties. After the death of Li Leung, Li Sing became the leader of the clan, and he was heavily involved in the real estate market of Hong Kong. He even participated in the government’s reclamation projects and built Li Sing Street and Ko Shing Street. Li Shing was the first Chinese merchant participated in property development in Hong Kong. In 1889, when the British-funded property company Hongkong Land was founded, Li Sing was a shareholder and a director of the company, thus showed his extremely high status in the real estate sector in Hong Kong.

In the 20th century, Central and Sheung Wan have almost fully developed, and Chinese merchant Hysan Lee saw the development potential of the Eastern District. In 1923, he purchased a big piece of land in East Point Hill, Causeway Bay from Jardine, Matheson & Co. for HK$ 3.8 million and proactively opened up and developed the streets there after World War II. The names of the streets in the vicinity of Lee Garden Hill were all related to the Lee family or four districts, Li Sing’s hometown. From that, we can see the degree of impact of the Lee family on the development of Causeway Bay.

From Li Sing who developed Sheung Wan to Hysan Lee who developed Causeway, the Chinese merchants have always been a major force in Hong Kong’s development from the City of Victoria. Through land development, not only did the Chinese merchants made huge profits, but the government also increased her tax revenue, thereby creating a win-win situation.

The History of Hong Kong III

The previous series of The History of Hong Kong was produced in the form of documentary. Oral histories coupled with computer image processing have made our history come alive in front of our viewers. Not only did it summon up the public’s collective memories of Hong Kong, but it also enhanced our young generation’s sense of belonging to Hong Kong.

The series will follow the previous two and continue to be centred around the major historical events of Hong Kong to showcase the past and present of Hong Kong. This series will also show how Hong Kong’s role today has changed through the evolution of history, and how the events have brought about the appearance of today’s Hong Kong.

This series will introduce the establishment of the medical system in Hong Kong; the development of the maritime industry in the early days of Hong Kong; the battle of Hong Kong; the press in early Hong Kong; the founding of the judicial system in Hong Kong; the rise of Chinese merchants and the development of new towns; the public housing policy and the development of transportation. We will also explore more historical events and people and we hope that the three series can reveal a more complete history of Hong Kong, so as to let our viewers know more about the history of Hong Kong.
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