The Disappearing Villages In Sheung Shui

Ng Uk Village, one of the many “indigenous” villages in Sheung Shui (a city in Hong Kong), has existed for more than a hundred years. “Ng” is the family name of the clan while “Uk” literally means “house”. Basically the “village of the Ng’s people” had settled there before the British arrived and colonized Hong Kong. In order to make peace with the “native”, the British made a deal to let the clans keep their land. And for each male born in the clan, he could inherit a piece of land sized about 400 square feet next to their village to build their own house. Consequently, the villages of the “founding families” (a very precise term recycled from “The Vampire Diaries”) of Sheung Shui were able to remain and moderately expanded in the past century.

However, while the villages had not dramatically changed with time, their surroundings had undergone rapid development. These included roads, highways and most dangerously housing development. As a result, most villages had become islands surrounded by high-rises and roads. That is exactly what happened to Ng Uk Village. The villagers are to “blame” too since they sell their land for these development. This again presents another very interesting phenomenon.

If you look around Sheung shui, almost everything old or historical is owned or related back to the villages. The villagers basically own all the historic properties and the right to develop or destroy them. While government has started doing some historic preservation, it only applied to high-profile monuments in the central city. There is no law against demolishing something old as long as they are not designated monuments. And the prevalent way to designate a building a historic monument is for the government to pay a ton of money to buy it. As a result, what you are seeing historic now in these photos could be gone the next time you walk by it.

As shown in these photos, the village has something interesting to offer. The central piece is the ancestral hall with the open plaza in the front is the place to worship the founding male ancestors during different seasonal ceremonies. It is the oldest building built in traditional style. The surrounds houses are no architectural masterpiece but together they produce a rectangularly gridded city with narrow lanes and closely packed square houses. Like other villages, this one is sited in front of a little hill for Feng Shui purpose. Supposingly the hill can protect the villages from wind or attack from the back.

sheung shui, hong kong – 2:16pm, apr 17, 2012

(left) Each house takes the shape of the lot and expand upwards. (Right) Narrow lane formed by the rigidly aligned houses in the front and back.

(Left) Traditional tile roof with end caps covering end of tiles. (Right) Open drain all around the buildings and the village.

(Above) Long green brick were a popular locally made material for prominent buildings.

(Left) New modern three storey high houses located on the outskirt of the village.

(Below) The green logo on the left is an abstract form of the Chinese character “north” because Sheung Shui is located in the North District.


4 thoughts on “The Disappearing Villages In Sheung Shui

  1. Tucker Deeds says:

    Fascinating! It is too bad that the villages are being slowly eroded by development. A mixture of old and new is nice.

    • kam says:

      This is so true! It is hard too for the villagers to not to sell the land when the developers are willing to pay a ton to buy them out. In many of the case, the villagers live overseas and don’t really care about the future of the village. So they decide to cash out!

  2. michaeljohn32 says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s really neat to see how the strands of community still bind a few together, especially in the face of overwhelming pressure to modernize in ways that might destroy the link to the past.

    • kam says:

      It is so sad that in an extreme capitalistically driven society most people only think in short terms. I guess I would so the same if I am offered a ton of money… It is funny how an outsider like me would care about the future of the indigenous villages. They are the ones who are born with privileges and all the village money while I am just a commoner who has to work my ass to make a living. That is exactly the reason why most outside people don’t care about the future of the village. But honestly, in terms of historic preservation, these villages are the only historic things we have left!

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