HKG/ Density and poor living condition in Tai Ping Shan
After the handover of Hong Kong island to the British Government, the Chinese residents on the island were all relocated to the Tai Ping Shan district. The residents first concentrated in the Tai Ping Shan section — by Tai Ping Shan, it means the current Sheung Wan side. It slowly spread to the Tai Ping Shan of Sai Ying Pun Section due to the growth of population and limited land in the slope. It eventually spread towards further to the West, which is the current Sai Wan area, which is also the Kennedy Town according to history. It can be summarized that Tai Ping Shan is the first Chinese community in the colonial history while Sai Ying Pun and neighborhood districts start to develop roughly about 10 years later.
From the historical photos from exhibition material in the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, which can also be found in various scholar’s work, the density of Tai Ping Shan is extremely crowded. It simply looks like the current favelas in Sau Paulo, Brazel. The poor living condition could be imagined. In the left, the detailed plan of how the houses are being divided in the plot could be seen. Houses are stick together side by side, back to back. Some of the units have limited opening, while some even do not have one at all.
Houses in Tai Ping Shan are mainly break house built on 30-40 degree slope. While “The drain traps are openly used by coolies as urinals, and the stench so caused in some places is abominable…” and “the road always in a state of wet and filth from the refuse, offal and slops thrown out of the houses. If this is so in the principle thoroughfare of Hongkong, what it must be in Tai-ping-shan, where few Europeans go, it is not difficult to imagine” according to Dr Philip Bernard Chenery Ayres, who wrote in the “Hong Kong Colonial Surgeon’s Report for 1880”, 20 May 1881. Due to its poor living condition in hilly typology, it speed up the spread of plague after its first break out in 8th May, 1894.
It was being recorded that the “Living Condition is so poor that as if it is not a place for human beings to inhabit but pigs”. The situation was so poor that “As for the roads and streets, Chinamen are to be seen pursuing their avocations on the paths and even in the roadway, throwing slops, animal and vegetable refuse out of their houses into the road at all hours…” In the eye of British Government, the quality of living of Chinese community is so low and sanitary standard were not up to standard. The British also foreseen that the living condition will eventually cause problem in sanitation and hygiene. Hence, if there is any diseases, the rate of break out will be extremely high due to the overly crowded situation. Dr Philip Bernard Chenery Ayres wrote in “Hong Kong Colonial Surgeon’s Report for 1880”, 20 May 1881 — “The habits of the Chinese do not assist in the sanitation of the house. In each of the partitions referred to is a bed on which the family sleep, under the bed is a poo poo tub, which is of glazed earthenware with a cover to it, this is used for the night soil for the women and children, and is emptied according to the class inhabiting the house from once every two days to once a week. The bedding used by the Chinese is never washed, and among the lower classes they seldom wash themselves…”
Just like how the population moves, the plague first break out in Tai Ping Shan and slowly affect to neighborhood district like Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town. Nevertheless, Tai Ping Shan is still the district with the most infected cases in the shortest time due to its poor living condition, which is also a consequence of over crowded community. The upper left mapping shows Bonham Road that marks the edge of Tai Ping Shan District. The map about Health District shows how it slowly spread from 7A (Tai Ping Shan) to 8 and 9 (Sai Ying Pun), eventually to 10 (Kennedy Town). The map on the right marks the Blake Garden, which is the first ever public space planned for the Chinese community; Tung Wah Hospital and the current Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences that used to be the Pathological Institute ever since 1906.