Hong Kong is known for its skyscrapers, but what is not known so much are its village houses (‘ding uk’ in Cantonese) which are a typical feature of the New Territories. On our way back from Wilson Trail Stage 7 we passed through a small village called San Uk Ka Village, and it reminded me of the unique village law that exists in Hong Kong.
While ding uk are usually called village houses in English, the literal translation means ‘son’s houses’. They are a product of a 1972 Hong Kong legislation which gave any male heir over the age of 18 who could prove he was descended from one of Hong Kong’s original villages in 1898 the right to build a small house on a plot of land, either owned by the village itself or on leased government land. In order to regulate the demand for housing, the law limited ding uk to three stories in height and 2,100 square feet of floor space. So no wonder they all look fairly similar!
There are hundreds of such villages in the New Territories of Hong Kong, which were granted special rights, including a certain degree of self-determination, when they were annexed by Britain in 1898. Many of these are in the Tai Po area.
This led to a massive increase in the size of Hong Kong’s villages, which began to sprawl outwards as families built new, modern houses for themselves, other family members and tenants whose rent helped pay the bills. The earliest houses had a certain flair to them, with tile walls, nicely-patterend floors and decorative cornices. By the 1980s, though, a standard and rather odd vernacular, often referred to as the “Spanish villa,” had emerged. Most houses had white or beige tile cladding, large exterior balconies on each floor and red tile roofs.
Unfortunately, the law is flawed:
(1) If a family has only daughters, they lose their right to build or pass on a village house
(2) Villagers have exploited it. They took take advantage of the law to cheaply build houses to sell for a big profit – there are regular stories about this in the news, for example here
(3) Plus an estimated 250,000 people are eligible to build ding uk, which leads to a problem of space