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Hidden Hong Kong: A look into the abandoned mining villages of Hong Kong

By Alison Fung 18 June 2021

Header images courtesy of @hayashihk and @yukanta (via Instagram)

Much of modern Hong Kong is built with glass, steel, and concrete, creating the iconic skyline as we know it today, but for centuries, the city was shaped out of locally sourced metallic minerals and stones. Hong Kong’s architectural wonders from the last century—including Tai Kwun, 1881 Heritage, and the now-demolished Kowloon Walled City—were built out of granite stones quarried from pit mines and metals extracted from ore deposits. 

While Hong Kong’s history is intimately entwined with the sea, by the 1950s, there were over a hundred quarries and mines in operation. Our rugged but diverse terrain of volcanic tuff gave the city a plenitude of mineral wealth. Yet, it was also this rough geography that made mining and extracting ore especially challenging on a large scale.

After decades of industrial mining practices involving explosives, blasting, and quarrying, the government halted the last remaining mines in 1982. Hidden inside overgrown forests today, many mining villages have been left abandoned, neglected, and sealed away—relics of a bygone era that few remember. From Ma On Shan to Needle Hill, we explore the abandoned mining villages peppered across the city that recall the story of a once-thriving industry.

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Ma On Shan (馬鞍山礦村)

Marked by a white façade, the Lutheran Yan Kwong Church is one of few structures that documents Hong Kong’s mining heritage. In a ravine below the mountain, the Ma On Shan Mining Village (馬鞍山礦村) operated for 70 years between 1906 to 1976, producing 200,000 to 400,000 tonnes of iron each year, most of which was exported to Japan. When production surged, Chinese immigrants rushed to the village, ventured into the deep tunnels, and excavated iron ores that were roped down the hill to the pier at Wu Kai Sha (烏溪沙).

Tunnels as deep as 5,400 metres into the mountains have been left untouched since the mid-1970s when demand for iron dropped significantly. A majority of the village was consequently deserted. In 2012, parts of the village were revitalised into a heritage site that doubles as a museum to preserve the memory of the village’s ancestry. Mining artefacts can be seen outside the adits together with the remains of scaffolding and railway tracks.

Sheung Tong (上塘)

Sitting on the west face of Tai Mo Shan, Sheung Tong (上塘) was a highland village in Hong Kong. In its heyday, the nearby gold, tungsten, and tin mines supplied work for villagers, an opportunity built upon a massive igneous bedrock that extends into Lin Hua Shan (蓮花山). Only 77 villagers called this small area home. Over time, the hand-dug tunnels produced only seven tonnes of ore—the underlying reason for why the area was never commercially exploited. The mine site was subsequently shut down in 1957.

With the decline of the mining industry, villagers relocated downhill. Nowadays, a couple of residences—including a two-storey mansion engraved “Man Yuen” (文苑, man4 yun2)—are gently returning to the forest. Some are inhabited by creeping ivy while others have deteriorated, with free-standing columns remaining. Besides abandoned homes and storerooms, over 300 adits are strewed amongst the hills. Quartz crystals and delicate minerals embedded in rock debris make this area a haven for those with an odd obsession with rocks.

Sun Kwai Tin village (新桂田)

Located along the border of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, Sun Kwai Tin village (新桂田) was built in close proximity to the Lin Ma Hang (蓮麻坑) mining caves. Discovered by a Spanish mining company in 1915, the mine site was the largest of its kind, with extraction opportunities for lead, zinc, yellow iron, and gold. During the Second World War, semi-precious metals were processed into bullets for the Japanese military. At its peak, the mine employed over two thousand miners until it was deserted in 1962.

Up until 2016, the area was off-limits to the public when it was declared as a Frontier Closed Area. Broken stone bridges, abandoned residences, and taipan offices have since been engulfed by trees and bushes. Mine pits and adits have been fenced up, but pit six—the largest space in the area nicknamed the “living room”—attracts occasional adventurers. Now home to an extensive bat colony, the orphaned mine provides an undisturbed resting and breeding ground for these nocturnal creatures. Here is a complete guide to the area.

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Lei Yue Mun quarry

Beginning in the 1840s, quarrying flourished as one of the most prominent industries in Hong Kong. Granite was one of the first exports shipped abroad. The Hakka clans—who settled into the slopes of Cha Kwo Ling and Lei Yue Mun—were skilled workers who contributed their techniques and knowledge to the industry. After the Second World War, thousands of structures and buildings were constructed, fashioned out of locally sourced granite from mine pits in the area, including the Lei Yue Mun quarry.

Beyond the Tin Hau Temple in Lei Yue Mun lie the ultimate relics of a long-forgotten industry. The ruins of what appear to be loading ramps of a former pier and stone houses are now frequented by explorers and photographers. The once prosperous stone quarry in Lei Yue Mun is now an abandoned place frozen in time, a strong contrast to the Shau Kei Wan shoreline across the animated harbour.

Ho Chung Mine (蠔涌鎢礦場)

The history of Ho Chung (蠔涌) in Sai Kung traces back to 1550 when it was established as a farming village encircled by ladder-like plateaus. Subsequently, the village’s mountainous backdrop attracted recognition when wolframite was discovered in the area. Seeking their fortunes, thousands of stakeholders—both legally and illegally—dug up adits in an area dominated by grasslands and bushes in high hopes of extracting tungsten.

While the extraction remained steady until the mid-1950s, mining activities scarred the areas with waste and sediments. The local environment was badly affected. In the 1970s, the government expropriated all mining permits. Ho Chung Mine was thus abandoned and left to rot. Today, you can see traces of its past life here—including wells and several abandoned buildings. A broken stone plaque that reads “god” (神) in Chinese hangs above a half-hidden adit, acting as a grim reminder of the dangers mines posed.

Needle Hill (針山)

Many mines are enshrined in Hong Kong’s mountainous ridges. Likewise, Needle Hill was home to a handful of mineral veins formed during violent volcanic activities during pre-historic times. An intricate network of tunnels crawled through its rocky terrain. Today, the only remnants of a once-thriving industry are rusty trolley tracks, rotting ladders, and wells covered with moss and fungus. Caving tunnels decaying into the dusty breeze hold the forgotten lives of the thousands of miners who once called this uncanny place their home.

Before 1935, locals among the Shing Mun valley were already extracting lead and other metallic minerals from the area. In 1941, a civil engineer realised the potential of Needle Hill and employed over five hundred miners to haul over 10 tonnes of wolframite from the tunnels per month. After the Second World War, Needle Hill became a major extractor of ore used for the Korean War. Over two thousand miners worked in-between the hills, hacking into granite crevices day by day. By 1967, dwindling prices of metal, along with increased labour cost, made the operation uneconomic and the mine was forever closed.

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Alison Fung

Former editor

A town girl who grew up on the rocky west coast of Canada, Alison has now found her permanent home in Hong Kong. When she’s not chasing down culture and travel stories around the city, you will find her exploring alleyways, searching for hidden speakeasies, or trotting around the globe to places she dreams of visiting.

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