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Behind the Name: Ma On Shan

By Celia Lee 21 November 2023

Header image courtesy of Mr Takayuki Kobayashi. Courtesy of Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

If you already know all about Hong Kong’s major landmarks, you will be interested to learn that the vibrant history of the city is often hidden in plain sight, surrounded by high-rises interspersed with traffic-packed streets.

With the best-kept historical secrets woven into the fabric of everyday life, location names are a big part of our rich cultural landscape, revealing some of the most interesting aspects of the past. From local pirates to a royal visit, our “Behind the Name” series explores a whole host of places in Hong Kong with fascinating stories behind their names.

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The phonetically translated Ma On Shan is among the plethora of other such monikers that showcase the straightforward, descriptive nature of native place names in the city. 馬鞍山 (maa5 on1 saan1) literally translates to “Horse Saddle Mountain,” and aptly relates to the arched, saddle-shaped mountain range that separated the Sai Kung and Sha Tin valleys. Later on, this alias will extend to include the district surrounding the mountain.

Ma On Shan was an active iron-ore mining site until the mid-1970s. In its heyday, the development of the Ma On Shan iron mine attracted many workers and their families to settle in the area. The settlement eventually formed the Ma On Shan Mining Village (馬鞍山礦村; maa5 on1 saan1 kwong3 cyun1), which has since been officially listed as a heritage site. As the village grew, two churches, a primary school, a kindergarten, a store, a small clinic, and a convent were built. The St Joseph’s Church is currently unused, but the Lutheran Yan Kwong Church was revitalised in the early 2010s—it is now a community hall, highlighting the village’s ancestry.

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Celia Lee

Staff writer

Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in the UK, Celia is passionate about culture, food, and different happenings in the city. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her scouting for new and trendy restaurants, getting lost in a bookstore, or baking up a storm at home.