Some of the fortifications in Hong Kong have long disappeared, destroyed by war, but some have survived. The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence is holding a new exhibition, entitled "Military Relics in Hong Kong", from now to December 31, enabling visitors to learn more about the existing military relics in Hong Kong and their original purposes and significance through the exhibition panels and photos.
The exhibition may also be treated as a brief historical retrospect of the relics.
After occupying Hong Kong Island in 1841, the British started to construct a number of military fortifications in the territory, including batteries, redoubts, barracks and naval yards, to defend the British force from possible attacks. The Lei Yue Mun Battery and Fort, before its conversion to the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, was one such fortification. With growing Japanese ambition in the 1930s, the British enhanced the fortifications in Hong Kong by constructing anti-aircraft batteries and laying down a systemic defence line. However, the reinforcement measures failed to defend Hong Kong from Japanese attacks.
Located at the estuary of the Pearl River, Hong Kong lies on the main maritime thoroughfare in southern China. Owing to its strategic location, Hong Kong had been an important military outpost long before the British arrival. According to historical records, soldiers were stationed in the present-day Tuen Mun as early as the eighth century. During the reign of the Qing Emperor Kangxi, the government constructed the Fat Tong Mun Battery and the Chicken Wing Point Battery to defend Hong Kong's eastern and western waters as part of its efforts to reinforce the military fortifications along the coast of southern China. Later, during the reign of the Qing Emperor Daoguang, the Kowloon, Linchong and Chengying Batteries, as well as Kowloon Walled City were added. The construction of these defence facilities indicated the importance of Hong Kong as a key military outpost.
In the early Qing period, coastal defences were abandoned due to the policy of evacuating the coastal population inland. After the policy was rescinded, the coastal areas were frequented by pirate attacks and the arrival of more Westerners. As a counter measure, a large number of Chinese naval battalions and batteries were established along the coast. The defences were later stepped up by the erection of more forts and the increases in troop numbers. Several of these batteries and forts were built one after the other in the region.
In 1840, the Tsim Sha Tsui Battery and the Kwun Chung Battery were constructed on the coastal knolls on the southern tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. The walls of the two batteries were of the same height at 3.33m, with battlements all round. Inside the batteries were offices, barracks, temples and gunpowder magazines. The Tsim Sha Tsui Battery was known as the Chengying Battery, and the Kwun Chung Battery was known as the Linchong Battery. The two batteries had 56 cannons altogether. In early 1841, in view of the difficulty in reinforcing these two isolated batteries, the troops stationed there were evacuated. In March that same year they were taken by the British forces. Later in May, the Kwun Chung Battery was bombarded by the British forces, while the Tsim Sha Tsui Battery was demolished and the bricks shipped to Hong Kong Island for construction purposes. Today, the sites of both batteries form part of the urban area and what remains is the name Kwun Chung.
As the British garrison in Hong Kong was seen as a threat to the Kowloon Peninsula, the Qing government decided to construct the Kowloon Walled City in northern Kowloon in 1843 to enhance the defences of the mainland. Construction was completed after four years.
There were four gateways with open towers on the top. Each arched gateway was 3.33m high, 2.66m wide and 6.66m deep. Iron gates were installed. The southern gate was the main gate, and above it was a stone tablet with the Chinese characters for "Kowloon Walled City" engraved in relief. In 1847 two additional city walls, forming the shape of an arrowhead, were constructed on the hill outside the north wall.
In 1898 the New Territories was leased to the British for 99 years. However, the lease did not cover the Kowloon Walled City. Initially, the Qing government stationed a garrison of officials and soldiers in the Walled City, but on May 16 of the following year the Hong Kong government sent troops to take over the Walled City and expelled the Qing officials and soldiers. This was done under the pretext that the Qing government had not provided assistance to the British when the local villagers rose up against the British takeover of the New Territories. No officials from the Mainland were from then on stationed within the Kowloon Walled City, even after the fall of the Qing dynasty. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government could not exert administrative control within the confines of the Walled City.
During World War II, the walls of the Kowloon Walled City were demolished by the Japanese to make way for the extension of the runway of Kai Tak Airport. Boulders from the walls were used for the construction of a nullah adjoining the airport. After the war, the Kowloon Walled City became a haven for criminals and degenerated into a cesspool of neglect. In 1987, the Hong Kong government announced plans for the demolition of the Walled City and its redevelopment as a park featuring several preserved relics. With the completion of the demolition work in 1993, the park, built as a Chinese-style garden, was opened in December 1995.
In the mid-1930s, the British army proposed to build a defence line similar to that of the infamous Maginot Line in Europe during World War I. The Gin Drinker's Line in the north of the Kowloon Peninsula extended from Gin Drinker's Bay in Kwai Chung in the west, passing the Shing Mun Reservoir and Shing Mun River, Sha Tin, Tate's Cairn, Sha Tin Pass, to reach Sai Kung in the east. Its total length was 18 kilometres. Ditches, pillboxes and bunkers were also built along the line. This plan was once shelved but was relaunched in 1939. Construction of the line was completed in 1941.
As early as 1938, instructions were given to the Hong Kong government to build air raid shelters in preparation for possible air attacks from enemies. Air raid shelters were tunnels excavated into hillsides for people to take shelter in during air attacks. Some, however, were built for firearms storage. It was not until late 1940 that the Hong Kong government began the construction of air raid shelters on an extensive scale. Air raid shelters were concentrated in the northern part of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, the most densely populated areas at the time. Tunnel networks for firearms storage were also built during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.
The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It opens from 10 am to 5 pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of Coastal Defence’s website at http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/Coastalor call 2569 1500.
Ends/Friday, October 3, 2008
Kowloon Walled City in about 1910.
Tsim Sha Tsui Battery in about 1841.
Tung Chung Fort in 2007.
Chicken Wing Point Battery in the mid 1990s.
Devil Peak Redoubt in the mid 1990s.