Kwun Tong 1950-2000 – Government Study about the Industrial History of Kwun Tong

HF: Kwun Tong was one of the most important industrial districts in Hong Kong’s history. In the 1980s, around 20% of Hong Kong’s industrial output was produced there. It is currently undergoing the largest urban renewal plan in Hong Kong (2009-2021).

The Energizing Kowloon East Office (EKEO), Development Bureau, HKSAR Government has published an Executive Summary Study on Industrial Heritage of Kowloon East and its Potential for Public Art/ Urban Design. This is mainly about Kwun Tong though its definition of Kowloon East also includes Kowloon Bay, itself a major industrial district and the Kai Tak airport site currently undergoing major redevelopment.

Hong Kong-Development of Kwung Tong-circa 1961-image 002

Kwung Tong about 1961. This image is not taken from the study.

The Study says: Kwun Tong was planned as an industrial area in 1954 and its industrial development can be summarized into 4 stages:

Beginning: 1950-65 Reclamation started at the eastern end near the former oil depot (now Laguna City) extending westwards towards Kowloon Bay and was carried out in three stages between 1954 and 1962 (Please refer to appendix 2 for the Reclamation Phasing of KTIA). In the early stage, the land was auctioned at comparatively large size (ranging from 200 000 to 9 000 sq ft) at prices as low as HK$5.60 per sq ft in the 1950s. As the reclamation progressed, the size of the subdivided land lots had become significantly smaller to better suit the needs. To support industrial development, the Government provided housing in the area, e.g. the Garden Estate and Kwun Tong Resettlement Estate completed in 1959; electricity, water and telephone lines had also been steadily improved since 1960; transportation network was established throughout the course of development, e.g. first bus line in 1958, Kwun Tong Pier moved from Ngau Tau Kok in 1960 and MTR Kwun Tong Line opened in 1979. Among the pioneers in the Kwun Tong Industrial Area were cotton mills, thermal flasks, electrical appliances and plastic factories. Many of the first generation factories were purpose-built for their specific production, some of them have been demolished or altered and not many of them are preserved intact at present.

Heyday: 1965-85 In 1961, a record identified about 100 factories and 15,000 workers in Kwun Tong. By 1970, the number of factories and workers were about 800 and 72,300 respectively, and further increased to 7,000 and 200,000 by 1985. The number of factories and workers in Kwun Tong increased by 70 and 13 folds respectively from 1961 to 1985.Textiles and clothing was still the dominant sector, hiring about 40% of the total work force in the area by 1980s, followed by rubber and plastics in the second place. Notable metalware and food and beverage factories also moved to Kwun Tong during this period. It was during the late 1960s that electronics became an important industry with the number of factories doubling within a decade. In 1980s, 18% of Hong Kong’s industrial output was produced by the district, illustrating its importance to the overall economy. With the rapid growth of industries in the area, shortage of labour became acute and competition to recruit workers was keen. Factory owners had to provide various benefits and attractions in order to keep their workers – some installed air conditioning in their premises while it was common to provide canteens or organized catering for lunch as well as tours and picnics as bonus. Factory life in the heyday of Kwun Tong was memorable in many ways: from listening to radio with phone-in requests for music broadcast such as the RTHK programme “Postman in the Air” to socializing and courtship among workers strolling to bus stops and ferry terminals after work.

The Study then moves onto the area’s Transformation: 1985-2000 and Prospects Post-2000

Source: Study on Industrial Heritage of Kowloon East and its Potential for Public Art/ Urban Design Energizing Kowloon East Office (EKEO), Development Bureau, HKSAR Government June 2014

See:

  1. A Map Of Our Own – Kwun Tong Culture and Histories does not just aim at tracing its 60 years of community history and documenting the urban landscape and its culture that only lives in its unique ways of spatial practices. We also hope to encourage people to do media creations of their own and to raise public attention to the changes in the town in the coming 12 years.
  2. Kwun Tong: Engine of industry sputters SCMP 27th July 2012
  3. Kwun Tong District Council – photos and a little information about the area in the 1960s and 70s.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Industrial Development of Kwun Tong – 1953 to 1964

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