The story of Ming Wah Dai Ha
starts from Shau Kei Wan
George Wan, Founder of Hide and Seek Tour
Shau Kei Wan (literally “Colander Bay” in Chinese) was named after the former shape of a bay nearby. After the founding of Hong Kong in 1841, Shau Kei Wan became one of the first areas in the Eastern District where industrial and commercial development took place.
Shau Kei Wan was one of the coastal quarries in Hong Kong that produced a lot of strong and durable granite, which was in high demand due to the numerous ongoing construction projects in Hong Kong. This attracted a lot of Hakka people, who are known to be great masons, to find work in the area, many of whom settled in where A Kung Ngam Village is today. Tsang Koon Man was the most prominent mason amongst these Hakka immigrants and amassed great fortune because of his work. The private mansion he built in Sha Tin is now a Grade I historic building known as Tsang Tai Uk.
Since Shau Kei Wan is situated near the coast and surrounded by hills, it provides a great shelter for fishermen to moor their boats; this helped the growth of the local fishing industry. During the Japanese occupation, the Shau Kei Wan fishing junk alliance was formed, and total catch further increased. The Shau Kei Wan Wholesale Fish Market at A Kung Ngam Road bore witness to the development of Shau Kei Wan’s fishing industry.
Masons, fishermen and locals raised funds to build and rebuild Tin Hau Temple (in 1873) and Tam Kung Temple (in 1905), hoping that the gods would bless and protect them. After all, masonry and fishing were considered hard and dangerous work at the time. Main Street East hosted the biggest market at the time with shops and restaurants aplenty.
Near the end of the 19th century, the British conglomerate Swire broke ground on a sugar refinery at Quarry Bay and later opened the Taikoo Dockyard. The thousands of workers hired for the projects settled near their workplace, leading to a sharp increase in Shau Kei Wan’s population. Even with a surge in the number of residents, Shau Kei Wan was still considered a suburban area. There were no buses, the only land transport available was the trams which started operating in 1904. The public transport problem would not be alleviated until the 1950s and gave birth to a once-popular maxim which loosely translates to “you don’t know when you’ll reach Central when trapped in Shau Kei Wan”.
Shau Kei Wan was also once a military stronghold as it is situated at the east entrance of Victoria Harbour. The Lei Yue Mun Fort was built in 1885 to defend against invading forces and played a huge role in protecting Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion.
Pic 1: Shau Kei Wan in 1961 (Photo credit: Hong Kong Housing Society)
Pic 2: 9 December 1958, The Kung Sheung Daily News, a report on the construction of Shau Kei Wan Sun Chuen
In the several years between the end of the civil war and the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong experienced an influx of mainland immigrants. As the city lacked the housing capacity to accommodate the sudden increase in population, many low-income individuals resorted to building shacks on hillsides in various neighbourhoods, including Shau Kei Wan, which was home to a total of 13 villages. These squatter areas were often densely populated and poorly planned; as a result, most residents lived in insanitary conditions and fires were rampant.
None of the existing government agencies at the time were specially dedicated to handle the housing crisis; Hong Kong Housing Society was founded mostly in response to the growing predicament. In 1947, the Lord Mayor of London donated a sum of 14,000 pounds from its Air Raid Distress Fund to the Hong Kong Social Welfare Council. A member of the Council and the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, the Reverend Ronald Hall, proposed to use the donation to establish a public housing provider. The Housing Society was founded in 1948 under his leadership.
In 1957, the Housing Society was awarded a plot of land in Shau Kei Wan (where the now demolished Luk Bo Village sat) by the government. Construction of the first public housing estate in Shau Kei Wan began the following year and was set to be named “Shau Kei Wan Sun Chuen” (Pic. 1). Though it was located on a suburban hillside, residents could easily reach the downtown area due to the estate’s proximity to the tram terminal. Later, it was decided to name the new estate “Ming Wah Dai Ha” after one of the Housing Society’s founders, the reverend Ronald Hall (Chinese Name: Ho Ming Wah). The estate itself was to be designed by esteemed architect Szeto Wai; to quote Overseas Chinese Daily News, the major goal of the construction is to “ameliorate the housing shortage faced by low-income individuals and workers who make up a significant part of Shau Kei Wan’s growing population, and to beautify and bring prosperity to the neighbourhood”. At the same time, A Kung Ngam Road was constructed so that residents can travel more easily.
Due to the immense scale of the project, the development of Ming Wah Dai Ha was divided into two phases. Phase one comprises 7 blocks, Block H to M, which was completed in 1963. Phase two comprises 6 blocks, Block A to G, which was completed in 1965. The 13 buildings offered about 3,000 flats which can accommodate more than 18,000 residents.
Pic 3 and 4: 10 February 1966, a plaque ceremony, officiated by then Governor Sir David Trench, was held at Ming Wah Dai Ha (Photo credit: Hong Kong Housing Society)
A plaque unveiling ceremony was held on 10 February 1966 (Pic. 2) to commemorate the completion of the project; over a hundred distinguished guests attended the event. The ceremony was officiated by then Governor Sir David Trench, who heaped praises on Bishop Hall’s contributions and recognised the work of the Housing Society. As a matter of fact, the success of the Housing Society and Ming Wah Dai Ha was largely attributable to Bishop Hall’s foresight and vision. When the estate’s design was later referenced by government funded housing projects, the Bishop proudly commented, “the first resettlement estates built by the government after the Shek Kip Mei fire were based almost entirely on our plans and designs.”
The size of the flats at Ming Wah Dai Ha were determined by the number of expected occupants (35 square feet per person). When the building was new, the monthly lease rate of a 175 square feet flat designed for a family of five was HKD59. Apart from the cheap rates, Ming Wah also offered a pleasant living environment: most of the flats were equipped with a private kitchen and bathroom; the building itself featured public spaces where residents could interact with each other, and natural ventilation which was great for their health. As such, the estate was considered by many as the perfect living space; the number of applicants was overwhelming. According to a report by Overseas Chinese Daily News on 14 August 1962, the seven buildings completed in phase one offered a total of 1,480 flats, compared to 17,000 applications lodged, representing an oversubscription of more than 10 times.
In 1976, Block A, which lacked private bathrooms, was rebuilt. In 2010, elevators were installed in all of the buildings to help residents get around more easily. Due to aging and deterioration of the buildings and growing housing demand, the Housing Society resolved to rebuild Ming Wah Dai Ha in phases in 2018. The oldest buildings, Block K, L and M, were rebuilt in 2021 and renamed Block 1, 2 and 3 respectively. The rebuilding of the rest of the blocks are well underway. The new estate is expected to be completed in 2035 and will be home to over 3,900 families.
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