Sedan Chairs in Hong Kong, a timeline

HF: A little more information on a subject we only have three articles about, all posted below. I have retyped the original printed piece to aid clarity and searches.

Thanks to SCT for proof reading the retyped version.

Sedan Chair, Hong Kong C1880

Sedan chair in Hong Kong, c1880 Source:

Urban and residential areas on Hong Kong Island were opened up along the slopes of Victoria Peak, and with only a few mountain paths, these areas were linked to the Peak.

The sedan chair and saan dau (mountain chair or mountain pocket) were the main transportation means in mountainous areas in the early days of Hong Kong colonialism. They had the contemporary names of gim yue (a sedan chair carried on the shoulder) or lan yue (a basket-like sedan chair). Sedan chairs were also classified as the zuk kiu (bamboo sedan) and the yau yi kiu (oil-coated sedan). The gaai kiu (street sedan) and the gung kiu (public sedan) was used for public transport. The si ga kiu (private sedan) and the cheong kiu (long sedan) were for private use.

Sedan Chair, Victoria Peak HK

Sedan Chair, Victoria Peak, HK Source: Pinterest

1859 In 1859, the Hong Kong Government started to make laws for the proper use of sedan chairs. There were among the rules, expressed regulations relating to tolls and sedan stations. The sedan bearers needed to wear a badge with a sedan graphic engraved on it. On big occasions such as horse racing days or royal visits, restrictions would be imposed on road sections for sedans and their stations.

A light-weight sedan chair, Hong Kong, around 1880 Source: Hong Kong Public Records Office

1866 In Bin Chun’s Notes Taken on a Sea Journey (1866), there was a piece of writing about sedan chairs: 

“On the second day of the month, visit to ‘Mr Ma of Hong Kong Military’ (Sir Richard G. McDonnell. 1814-1881, Governor of Hong Kong); on the third day, invitation to a drink with Mr Ma, a travel on mountain chair around Tai Ping Shan (Victoria Peak) for 10 miles.”

1912 On the 4th July 1912, having just taken office, Sir Francis Henry May, the Governor of Hong Kong was nearly shot while landing on Blake Pier, [as he rode in a sedan chair.] He made a narrow escape though. After that, governors of Hong Kong used motor cars for transport instead.

1922 There could be two, three or four bearers for one sedan chair. An “eight-bearer big sedan” would be used to serve the Governor and honourable guests visiting Hong Kong. When Prince Edward V111 of England, who became the Duke of Windsor, came to visit Hong Kong in 1922, the “eight-bearer big sedan” was sent to pick him up.

The Japanese Occupation (1941-1945) In the 1920s various kinds of cars began to emerge. The sedan chair, which should have been eliminated, became an important means of transport again during the Japanese occupation due to a severe lack of motor vehicles and the traffic being constantly held up. The sedan chair was given another new Japanese name kago (literally translated as driving cage).  Further, the Japanese military authorities wanted to levy water tax and to carry out administrative measures, so they proposed that a sedan union called the Kago Union be formed. The union had fifty-five sedan chairs when it was first established.

1950 After the liberation of Hong Kong from the Japanese, few citizens took buses on the Peak tram, which meant sedan chairs and mountain sedans remained an important means of transport. Many pregnant women about to deliver babies were seen going to hospital on sedan chairs. Even though motor cars began to prevail in the fifties, there were many people who preferred the “red bridal sedan” to a motor car for picking up the bride. There was also the green “soul sedan” seen only at funerals. These special sedan chairs for specific occasions became obsolete in the sixties with the traffic growing rapidly over time.

Sedan chair service in Tai O, Lantau Island, HK, late 1950s. Courtesy: Alice S.K.Yau / Fung Chi Ming

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 24th April 2022.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Glimpses of Old Hong Kong: Sedan Chairs
  2. Sedan Chairs at Tai O, Lantau Island
  3. Sedan chair services on Lantau island

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