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Behind the Name: Ta Kwu Ling

By Celia Lee 14 February 2024

Header image courtesy of The University of Hong Kong Museum Society

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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Ta Ku Ling on a map of the San-On district in 1866. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Located close to the northeastern border where Hong Kong’s New Territories meets Shenzhen, Ta Kwu Ling—also spelt “Ta Ku Ling” on old documents—has an interesting name and a fascinating history to match. Its Cantonese moniker, “打鼓嶺” (daa2 gu2 leng5), translates to “Drumming Ridge.” Legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, villagers living in the area were often raided by a group living north of the Shenzhen river near the Huangbei ridge (黃貝嶺). In an effort to gather everyone when the village was under attack, villagers set up and sounded a big drum on the ridge, hence the name “Drumming Ridge.”

While “Ta Kwu Ling” refers to a specific district in the New Territories today, the name once simply referred to one of four bigger areas in the north of Hong Kong. Between 1898 and 1980, the colonial government divided the border between Hong Kong and mainland China into four sections, with Ta Kwu Ling being one of them. This area spanned all the way across to present-day Fanling. In earlier colonial documents, present-day Lo Wu was also included. This sweeping allocation eventually faded out of documents.

Ta Kwu Ling is not to be confused with Ta Ku Ling, an area in the Sai Kung district with the same Chinese characters in its name. We wonder if it had a similar history!

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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.