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Behind the Name: Ngau Tau Kok

By Celia Lee 22 January 2024

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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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An overview of Jordan Valley in 1991. Photo: Eric028 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Ngau Tau Kok is a residential area in East Kowloon, located between Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay, and the phonetic rendition of its Cantonese form—“牛頭角”—translates to “Ox Head Corner.” Its peculiar name was inspired by the ox-horn-shaped coast of Ngau Tau Kok pre-land reclamation, but if your initial thought was that it had something to do with actual cows, you might not be far off.

The area was inhabited by Hakka people up until the late nineteenth century. While many migrated to the area hoping to find work in newly established quarries, some settlers turned to farming, and there is a high likelihood that they kept cows on their land. A 1911 census recorded 440 formal inhabitants in the area, a small number that rapidly grew in the twentieth century. By the 1960s, Ngau Tau Kok became one of the 13 townships of Kowloon with a significant village population.

There are two notable landmarks in Ngau Tou Kok: Jordan Valley (佐敦谷; zo3 deon1 huk1) and Crocodile Hill (鱷魚山; ngok6 jyu4 saan1). This area also housed one of the four granite quarries founded in early colonial Hong Kong, where materials were extracted to support construction across the Victoria City harbour, as well as further inland in Canton City (present-day Guangzhou). Most of Ngau Tau Kok has since been developed into sophisticated residential areas with high land value—quite the glow-up from its nineteenth-century mining heyday!

Photo: Wpcpey (via Wikimedia Commons)

While Ngau Tau Kok is primarily residential today, the neighbourhood once encompassed present-day Kowloon Bay and saw industrial activity until 1965. The present-day Kowloon Bay MTR station was built where the Ngau Tau Kok Industrial Estate once stood. At the time of Hong Kong’s industrial boom in the 1950s and 1960s, Ngau Tau Kok housed a large number of factories. One of the notable plants included Amoy’s soy-sauce manufacturing facility. When the industrial sector plummeted in the 1980s, the Amoy factory was closed, and the high-density private housing estate Amoy Gardens was constructed on the site soon after.

Ngau Tau Kok Lower Estate, one of the first public housing estates in the area, was built in the 1960s. Initially, it served as a resettlement estate for families who lost their homes to natural disasters or due to redevelopment schemes in other parts of Hong Kong. Many had made the Lower Estate their home throughout the years, until its demolition in the early twenty-first century, prompting another wave of resettlement to Ngau Tau Kok Upper Estate across the road.

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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.