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The History of Hong Kong Construction (Part 1)

If you thought history, or heaven forbid the history behind the construction industry in Hong Kong was boring and irrelevant – or has little or no relationship to your everyday working life – a little investigation will leave you pleasantly surprised and intrigued.

Hong Kong as a Hub for Construction Skills
Construction and related industries have been an integral part of Hong Kong’s, ongoing success story since the 1840s. Whether as major corporate conglomerates or small-scale, independent entrepreneurs, all have had a major role in local development. Artisans flocked to Hong Kong from the early years, all attracted by the opportunities the new settlement afforded. Stonecutters and stonemasons, carpenters and others all made their homes here. The evidence of their largely-vanished lives is set down in the records of guilds and temples.

Construction Materials in Hong Kong
While the overwhelming majority of materials used in the local Hong Kong construction industry are imported, some are locally made. From the nineteenth century, industries evolved to meet specific localized needs. Portland cement, sanitary ware, fittings and pipes, paint and other materials were all produced in local factories. By the 1950s, a significant proportion of ongoing requirements for the local construction industry were locally produced.

The Changing Workshop of the World
Many items were imported and then processed in Hong Kong; a significant example of this was timber which was logged in South East Asia, primarily milled in the country or origin and then imported into Hong Kong for further processing.  As time passed, and the mainland opened up in the early 1980s, more and more construction-related manufacturing shifted across the border. Very little material is still produced in Hong Kong today, as Guangdong province and – increasingly – the interior provinces – have gradually become the workshop of the world. 

Jason Wordie

Jason is a local historian and writes weekly in the Sunday magazine of the South China Morning Post. He has written a number of books and offers walking tours and lectures on the history of Hong Kong.

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