In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China. Despite promises that colonial architecture would be preserved, if you visited Hong Kong after 1997 you would have been surprised by the disappearance of much which once appeared in travel guidebooks. The most remarkable sights which were removed are the Star Ferry Pier and the Queen Pier. As someone who has lived in Hong Kong for a long time, both piers represented fond memories of the place for me. The clock tower of the Star Ferry Pier was built by the company ‘E. Dent of London’, the same company which built the clock tower of Westminster Abbey. The Queen Pier acted as an important focal point of our colonial history, and was the site where royals landed upon coming to Hong Kong. Both these piers were part of the local culture, and were emblematic of why tourists found Hong Kong unique and irreplaceable.
Before the demolition, a number of old men used to pull rickshaws in front of the piers. It was one of the attractions which fascinated tourists. You could take the rickshaw and have a great view of the whole of Victoria Harbour. The rickshaw business was doomed with the demolition of the Pier, and many tourists felt nostalgic towards this traditional business. Amidst great opposition from the locals and even many foreigners, the Chinese government insisted on removing both piers to make way for urban development. Despite the protests, developers stood firm and claimed that the demolition would allow for the building of better transport links.
Before the demolition, the Star Ferry Pier was a popular destination for residents of Hong Kong during weekends. My father brought me there when I was small. He would buy me an ice cream from the traditional ice cream car, and we would take the ferry across the Victoria Harbour. As we arrived at Queen Pier, I was enchanted by the knowledge that members of the British Royal Family had once been there. These sweet memories were definitely not only mine, but shared with many generations of the people of Hong Kong.
The new piers, although very different to the originals, are still worth visiting. You can enjoy the stunning skylines standing on the edge of the piers, and observe the photographs of the old clock tower in the new Star Ferry Pier’s exhibition hall.
Yet, even though the government rebuilt the piers in a style similar to the old ones, they can never make up for the loss of genuine cultural history. Culture is an indispensable part of a society, and while Hong Kong is still very much worth visiting, it has lost something special from its cultural past. Historical sites should be respected and efforts should be made to see them, before they are removed or changed.