Rickshaws in Hong Kong, a Timeline

Rickshaw in Chinese is shau che (literally translated as hand vehicle) or wong bau che (literally meaning yellow hire vehicle). Rickshaws were introduced from Japan in 1880 and were thus named dung yeung che (literally translated as Eastern Ocean Vehicle).

The gung che (public rickshaw) or gaai che (street rickshaw) was a passenger rickshaw, and the si ga che (private rickshaw) or cheong ban che (long rank rickshaw) was privately owned by the rich. A “private rickshaw” was usually black and bearing a metal plate with the name of the owner or the name of the company on it.

Rickshaws were classified according to the number of pullers as follows:
the “hand rickshaw” was pulled by one man only. A “hand rickshaw” could accommodate two passengers and was also called a wong che (yellow rickshaw).
The geuk che (leg rickshaw) was pulled by two pullers, one pulling at the front and another pushing at the back.
The “private rickshaw” would employ three pullers, in addition to the rickshaw being “escorted from the front and the back”, the third puller was in a standby position.

A ‘two-seater’ rickshaw, Hong Kong circa 1880s. 
(Image courtesy: Historical Photographs of China Collection, University of Bristol, England)

1884 In 1884 the authorities had regulations for rickshaws put in place and made rules for their stationing. On horse racing days or days of important celebrations, restrictions were imposed on the routing of rickshaws.

1895 According to statistics, there were fifteen rickshaws used on the Kowloon Peninsula in 1895. Eight years later, rickshaws began to run on Tai Po Road extending to the New Territories.

1901 In 1901 the Government made new purchase orders for 300 rickshaws for foreigners.

Many of the rickshaw manufacturers and servicing people operated their businesses in Central: Kwong Shing at 8 Po Leung Kuk New Street and Shi Lung at 190 Des Voeux Road West.

1910 In 1910 a rickshaw strike broke out on Hong Kong Island. Although the “yellow rickshaw” did not take part in this action, a bus route extending Ngo Keng Kiu (Bowring Ridge, literally meaning goose neck bridge) to Yue Yuen in Happy Valley was opened as a result. This route existed until 1918 and was the first bus route Hong Kong ever had.

1916 In 1916 the Government set a limit on public rickshaws at not more than 1,150. As rickshaws were included in the rules for motor vehicle drivers, the Government ordered that rickshaw pullers also needed a license.

1919 In 1919 there were three rickshaw depots at Star Ferry Pier in Kowloon, each being able to keep two rickshaws for hire. actors and actresses or even prostitutes used the “long rank rickshaw” as a transport means.

Popular actors and actresses, singers. Canton opera a actors and actresses or even prostitutes used the “long rank rickshaw” as a transport means. Some prostitutes even tried to use this gimmick to attract people by passing through the streets flirting on a rickshaw.

1921 In 1921 there were five shops at Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po, Hung Hom and Kowloon City that had rickshaws ready for customers’ orders by phone. The shops were Ngan Shing Kwan Hand Rickshaws, Ngan Luk Hand Rickshaw, Mou Fung Hand Rickshaw and Chow Yu Ting Hand Rickshaw. Customers could ask to use the telephone inside the shops.

1924 Ngan Shing Kwan (1903-2001), established China Motor Bus Company Limited (China Motor Bus Co. Ltd.). to run buses on Kowloon side. However, because of the economic downturn in 1928, many of the rich released their privately owned “long rank rickshaws” for hire at a monthly fee of HK$20.

1930 The popularity of buses and hire vehicles caused the decline of rickshaws from 1930 onwards.  Rickshaw shops in Tsim Sha Tsui and Yau Ma Tei closed down one after another. The Government began limiting the licensing of rickshaws from the next year, and thus, the number of rickshaws was cut down year after year.

The Japanese Occupation (1941-1945)

1943 During the three year eight month period of Hong Kong being in the hands of the Japanese, the severe lack of motor vehicles and constant traffic hold-ups made rickshaws the main means of transportation again. At that time there were over 500 on Hong Kong Island and over 300 in Kowloon. When buses stopped running in 1943, 110 orders for  rickshaws were placed to meet the demand. All rickshaws were under the authority of Land Transportation Department Government House, where the license or kansatsu was issued. Where there were marriage banquets or other functions, rickshaws could be seen going to pick up the bride. The bride, escorted by the “big bridal escort”, would follow the bridegroom to his home in the sedan chair. In 1950, there were altogether over 800 public rickshaws and ninety one private “long rank rickshaws” in Hong Kong and Kowloon. Therefore, in the fifties, rickshaw stations could still be found at the side of the road.

1950s Rickshaw Puller Courtesy Gwulo

Rickshaw Puller c1950s Courtesy: Gwulo. com

1960 From 1960 on, the number of rickshaws declined each year, and rickshaw stations at the roadside gradually vanished. Today, only some tens of rickshaws remain as a tourist attraction and merely serve as a little embellishment in photo taking.

Source: Early Hong Kong Transport, Cheng Po Hung, University Museum and Art Gallery /The University of Hong Kong, 2009

This article was first posted on 15th April 2022.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Hong Kong Rickshaw over Time
  2. Rickshaw Makers’ Stores
  3. Campaign to eliminate unlicenced rickshaws in Hong Kong, newspaper article, April 1947

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