This visit in the abandoned Hakka settlements in the New Territories was one of the best experiences I had in Hong Kong. It is a mixture of exploration of lost villages hidden in the jungle and a great hike right next to the Chinese border. I will not write about the context because this area is very well-known and there is already an excellent article about these Hakka settlements documenting the historical background and the points of view of the last inhabitants.
The villagers are believed to have migrated to the area in the late 1600s, following the end of a temporary evacuation order from Guangdong’s coastal areas during the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The evacuation zone, which included the whole of Hong Kong, was ordered by Qing Emperor Kangxi to deny Ming loyalist forces a base of support. After the order was lifted, a new wave of settlers returned to Hong Kong, cultivating acres of land and raising livestock, leading a self-sufficient lifestyle on the fringes of the Chinese empire.
For centuries, the Hakka thrived. Yet in the 1960s, the industrialisation of post-war Hong Kong and the arrival of mainland refugees sparked mass migration away from the countryside. Following a period of famine and starvation in mainland China as a result of disastrous agricultural policies under Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward campaign, multitudes of mainland Chinese citizens immigrated to Hong Kong.
From 1961 to 1981, as many as half a million refugees are estimated to have entered the city, with the majority settling in the New Territories. The influx of immigrants into the countryside created more competition amongst the region’s farmers, depriving many locals of their livelihoods. As the population of Hakka villagers also reached a peak in the 1960s, overcrowding put more pressure on natural resources. Unable to compete both in the agricultural and burgeoning manufacturing sectors, many took advantage of their right of abode as British subjects to relocate to the United Kingdom in search of a better life.
Jessie Lau, « The Ghost Villages: A Guide to Hong Kong’s Abandoned Hakka Settlements », Zolima CityMag, 27 July 2017
You can read the whole article here. As I can’t speak Cantonese, I suggest you learn more details on other blog reports (you can check out this report for instance) because I cannot really provide any deeper analysis myself. I decide to just share my pictures on the process of decay, structured by themes and not precise village names.
Traces of everyday life
Overgrown house facades
The superpowers of the banyan tree
Until I write more about this special place in Hong Kong, if you are interested in abandoned villages, you can read this article about abandoned village houses on Lamma island. For a comparable atmosphere in Mainland China, you can read my visit in Shengshan island.