An abandoned Hakka house
Dilapidated housing beside a current project
Overgrown pathway
The exterior of St. Joseph
Mangroves located at the breakwate
The main pathway in Yim Tin Tsai
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Hakka clan descendants are slowly returning and bringing this island village back to life

The first settlers of Yim Tin Tsai began to populate the outlying island between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A Hakka clan named the village Yim Tin Tsai to both honour their heritage and mark the local trade (the direct Chinese translation is “Little Salt Field”).

During the heydays of the late eighteenth century, Yim Tin Tsai’s villagers farmed six acres of salt fields.

Besides reliable local industry, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw numerous foreign missionaries visiting village communities. Historical records of religion in Yim Tin Tsai closely date that of the first settlers. By 1864, Catholic priests, began evangelizing to the villagers. By 1875, everyone on the island was a confirmed Catholic. The passion of the local population’s faith showed in the development of St. Joseph’s Chapel in 1890.

Yim Tin Tsai’s population hit its peak between the 1930s and 1950s. Approximately fifty Chan households comprising of 1,000 – 1,200 individuals lived in the village, with about one hundred children attending the village primary school. During the early 1950s, a pipeline was installed to provide potable drinking water. This prosperous growth proved to be wonderful but fleeting.

By the 1960s the world had progressed beyond the village’s capabilities. To hold on to its economic independence, the saltpans of Yim Tin Tsai were converted into fishponds. The next decade saw the local population dropping to 500. Paired with a struggling local economy was the lack of educational mobility in Yim Tin Tsai. With only the Ching Po Primary School, families moved away to provide their children opportunities for further education. A lack of students forced Ching Po School to close in 1997. By 1998, Yim Tin Tsai was entirely abandoned.

The Catholic Church and descendants of the Chan clan are reinvigorating the outlying island town. Now resurged as a unique ecotourism spot, Yim Tin Tsai is developing as a space for the next generation’s education and appreciation.

Text & Photos Victoria Mae Martyn