From Pirate Fortress to Community Anchor

Past meets present – high-rise complexese sit behind a centuries-old fort
Conservation eforts – clear discrepancy between stone and brick
A century old fort
A newish addition to the old fort
Remaining artifacts of the school kitchen
Building overtaken by moisture, mold and mother nature
Broad stone steps wrap around the fort
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Pearl River Delta

Where high-rise complexes now stand, shores were once vulnerable to pirate attacks. As an entryway to the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong witnessed a bustling maritime trade – and where there is trade, there are people eager to plunder. Over eight centuries ago, Tung Chung Fort rose in defence against smugglers and pirates who threatened this vital trade route.

Established on high ground, its cannons aimed at the sea, the fort’s story stretches far beyond its initial purpose. From fortress to police station, from rural committee office to school, its weathered stones whisper tales of constant transformation. This is not just a monument to the past but a vibrant testament to adaptability, evolving from vigilant protector to community anchor; each chapter etched in its weathered stones.

Tung Chung Fort

The initial structure, known as the naval headquarters of the Right Battalion of Dapeng, dates to the Shun Hei era (1174-1189) of the Southern Song dynasty. Back then, the fort housed soldiers from Canton (modern-day Guangzhou) who were there to guard the area from pirates. 

Cheung Po Tsai

As it now stands, the fort’s structure is part of a nineteenth-century reconstruction effort. This aligns with the tumultuous final years of the Qing dynasty when pirates beset Lantau. Infamous pirate Cheung Po Tsai, commanding a 600-ship fleet and 20,000-strong army, used Tung Chung Bay as his base, including Tung Chung Fort. When Cheung Po Tsai surrendered in 1810, the Qing government recovered and reconstructed the fort in 1832.

World War II

With the British takeover of the New Territories in 1898, Tung Chung Fort was abandoned and entered a period of decline. Back then, the fort comprised of little more than the exterior wall, watchtowers and garrison. The fort saw renewed use during World War II when the invading Japanese forces occupied it, but their departure left it once again exposed to the elements.

Wa Ying College

Later, the site found new purposes. It functioned as a police station. Then, in 1948, Wa Ying College, displaced by the Chinese Civil War, relocated from mainland China and used it as a school until 1963. Half a dozen single-story buildings were constructed during this period; most are now abandoned.

Tung Chung Rural Committee Office

In 1979, Tung Chung Fort was declared a monument, and nine years later, it was refurbished, becoming the site of the Tung Chung Rural Committee Office. A rectangular, one-storey structure, its roof designed in the likeness of local temples, was built in the middle of the training grounds for the committee’s use.

Tung Chung Fort was later transformed into a local primary school, and the school’s main office was built beside the rural committee building. After the school closed in 2003, Tung Chung Fort has served as a local historical site.

The Future of Tung Chung Fort

Today, Tung Chung Fort is open to the public for exploration and learning about its rich history as a defence post, police station, school and more. It tells the story of pirates and soldiers, students and community leaders, each chapter etched in its weathered stones. The fort’s reconstruction efforts continue, suggesting potential future uses beyond simply being a historical site. While specific plans haven’t been confirmed, possibilities include a new art space, community centre or museum. The exact future remains undefined. But like a forgotten path, overgrown but still leading to a new destination, it is a renewal that goes beyond mere preservation. Inspired by the success stories of Tai Kwun and Cattle Depot, I hope to see a future where Tung Chung Fort transcends its current role, enriching the present while safeguarding its unique legacy. The exact path remains unwritten, but one thing is sure: this resilient landmark, infused with whispers of the past and brimming with the promise of the future, is poised for its next exciting chapter.

Text & photos by Victoria Mae Martyn