Anson told me Kwun Tong got its name from the imperial salt yards that used to define the area some 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. In those days, the heart of Kwun Tong was not the apm shopping mall or Yue Man Square, but Cha Kwo Ling and Ngau Tau Kok. Although some years have passed since I had that etymological conversation with Anson, I do not know why the origins of Kwun Tong still stick in my mind.
Since Anson has already highlighted the salty origins of Kwun Tong in the interactive project “A Map Of Our Own – Kwun Tong Culture and Histories”, I will start my Kwun Tong story with another little-known or oft-forgotten fact of Kwun Tong’s past. Curiously it is not in Hong Kong but in Guangzhou where this chapter of local history can be best retold.
The beautiful Sacred Heart Cathedral in Guangzhou is an all-granite structure. The locals call it Stone House Church. The Gothic style building is a standing proof of Guangzhou’s international character as the major southern port in China not only in the 19th century but indeed, throughout history.
However, not until recently did I learn that the stones with which the church was built were actually from Hong Kong, or more precisely, from Ngau Tau Kok. The former heart of Kwun Tong was a village of ‘stonecutters and cultivators’ before the British took possession of Hong Kong in 1841, according to the respected historian James Hayes. There is a line in a book he wrote in the 1970s that says “It appears that for 10 years the French had been permitted to quarry stone there for the Roman Catholic cathedral in Canton, apparently ending in 1885, when the Tsungli Yamen instructed the viceroy to have the quarry closed.” The book’s title is The Hong Kong Region 1850-1911.