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5 historic mansions to explore in Yuen Long

By Alison Fung 24 May 2021

Header images courtesy of 活在江夏 and 香港遺美 Hong Kong Reminiscence (via Facebook)

Yuen Long, an alluvial meadow encircled by hills on all sides, embraces both modern-day and traditional ways of living. Home to the Five Great Clans of the New Territories, it is dotted with historical mansions to unearth—some of which have been revitalised as heritage landmarks, while others decay to dust as their destiny remains unknown.

Deep in the forgotten corridors of these remaining buildings are stories of the lives that have helped shaped Yuen Long through the centuries. Escape to this corner of Hong Kong to unravel the tales buried within these historic mansions and landmarks that have lain empty and neglected as if frozen in time.

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Kong Ha Wai (江夏圍)

Leaves of old trees crackled in the warm breeze as children zigzagged through the gardens and ponds. Koi fish and turtles gracefully steered their way through lotus blossoms and trickling creeks. If you close your eyes, you can almost visualise what life was like at Kong Ha Wai (江夏圍; gong1 ha6 wai4) in the 1930s.

Despite its name, Kong Ha Wai is not a walled village, but a complex of residences and apartments built by the Wong clan, named after their Hakka ancestors from Gong Ha, a region in present-day Hubei. True to Hong Kong’s cultivated mix of Western and Oriental roots, the main pavilion is marked by Roman columns and a Chinese plaque that reads “源遠堂” (yun4 yun5 tong4; “distant hall”), with traces of gold paint that still linger.

A labyrinth of rooms and halls, the mansion was used as a plastic factory workshop after the war. Its internal structures have somehow survived the ravages of time and neglect. An uneasy quiet encircles the space, accompanied by wall carvings, murals, and protruding steel bars.

Inside, memorabilia—including a merry-go-round, old newspapers, and film rolls—remain, leaving visitors to wonder what life may have been like once upon a time. Kong Ha Wai mansion is currently undergoing restoration as part of an urban renewal project, and we only hope that it will re-emerge with its history intact.

Kong Ha Wai, Kam Tin, Kam Shui South Road, Yuen Long

Photo: @pixelcollector_hk (via Instagram)
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Yu Yuen (娛苑)

Outfitted in red bricks, Yu Yuen (娛苑; yu4 yun2) is huddled between rows of village houses (村屋; cyun1 uk1) at the centre of Tung Tau Wai (東頭圍; dung1 tau4 wai4). Yu Yuen was a summer villa built by business tycoon Tsoi Po-tin in 1927. In its heyday, the historic mansion had metres after metres of thick lychee shrubs. Members under the Tsoi clan would spend days in the fenced-in villa slurping on lychee to escape the summer heat.

Behind its closed doors, a grand staircase winds upstairs to bedrooms and study halls coated in royal navy and emerald shades. European wall panelling, moulded ceilings, and glazed doors recall its colonial past. However, by the 1990s, rumours surrounded the historic mansion when the Tsoi family abruptly fled their home. Some roared that it was an execution ground during the war, while others whirled that seven servants had drowned in one night. Tales of such hauntings continue to attract adventure seekers.

Eventually, Yu Yuen caught the attention of film producers in the 1980s. Some notable films made at the site include Hong Kong 1941 (1984), which starred film legend Chow Yun-fat. Yu Yuen also served as a backdrop for the film Rouge (1988) as the family home of a rich playboy (portrayed by Leslie Cheung).

Yu Yuen, Tung Tau Wei, Yuen Long

Photo: Hong Kong Reminiscence (via Facebook)
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Tai Fu Tai (大夫第)

Built in 1865, this fully-restored historic mansion exudes the character and status of its former owner. Tai Fu Tai (大夫第; daai6 fu1 dai6) is one of the oldest yet most decorative historic mansions in Hong Kong. Nestled within San Tin Village, Tai Fu Tai was built by a successful businessman of the Man clan during the Qing dynasty.

Each of the tiles and bricks at Tai Fu Tai documents the exemplary craftsmanship of old Chinese architecture, from stone sculptures atop archways to wooden doors adorned with paintings of plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo. A row of small sculptures sprawls across the ridge crest of the roof, its subject matter taken from a famous folklore legend called the Yang Saga (楊家將; yeung4 ga1 jeung1), which records the tale of a family of heroic warriors sworn to protect the Song dynasty.

Surrounded by spacious grounds and a garden, Tai Fu Tai is not only an exquisite example of Lingnan (嶺南; ling5 naam4) architecture but also Western influences, as illustrated by the tinted glass windows and baroque arches. In the inner courtyard, an open-air room with a plaque that reads “Play with the moon” (玩月; waan2 yut6) implies the usage of the space as an intimate boudoir for playful private gatherings.

Tai Fu Tai, Wing Ping Tsuen, San Tin, Yuen Long

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Kwun Ting Study Hall (覲廷書室)

Standing out as the most eye-catching edifice in the Ping Shan village, Kwun Ting Study Hall (覲廷書室; gan3 ting4 syu1 sat1) marks the beginning of the Ping Shan Heritage Trail. It has acted as a school, banquet hall, and living quarters for the Tang clan since 1870. Its atrium is paved with rows upon rows of blue bricks, a strong contrast to the wall openings, which are sealed with block patterns of emerald. Flanked by rooms on either side, the design is supported by carved pillars and ornamented with wall paintings that depict Cantonese folktales.

A series of cold alleys (冷巷; laang5 hong2) extend from the atrium into a dark passageway and lead up to a moon gate (月亮門; jyut6 leong6 mun4). Through the gate lies Ching Shu Hin (清暑軒; siu1 syu2 hin1), which used to be a dining hall and residences for teachers. Spanning two storeys, the building is a beautiful blend of Western design and Eastern features, all enveloped within stained glass windows and decorative enamel.

When the British entered the New Territories in 1899, Kwun Ting Study Hall was used as a temporary field office. Although a fire devastated the structure in 1987, it has since been fully restored to its original glory and is open to the public daily for visitations and educational purposes.

Kwun Ting Study Hall, Ping Shan Heritage Trail, Yuen Long

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Yum Wah Lo (蔭華廬)

Tucked behind a thick bush in front of Pok Oi Hospital, Yum Wah Lo (蔭華廬; yam1 wa4 lou4) is known as the “House of Lions” amongst locals. Gilded lions distinguished by tails tipped with richly varied colours are carved into the beams above the entrance and among the walls and ceilings within the mansion.

A semi-circular pond at the front of the mansion gives rise to meandering waterflow, a nod between the ancient notion of harmony between men and nature, and acts as a feng shui element for its residing family to earn wealth and merit. Yum Wah Lo once drew in some of China’s greatest politicians, including Zhou Enlai.

Yum Wah Lo was constructed in 1937, drawing influence from the Pun family’s old ancestral hall in the Mui region (梅州; mui4 jau1) in Guangdong. Whether it’s the taste of nostalgia or the incredible sight of seeing buildings swallowed up by overgrowing trees and Boston ivy, Yum Wah Lo is an intriguing historic ruin now left to decay.

Yum Wah Lo (Pun Uk), Au Tau, Yuen Long

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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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