Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick has said that the sale of a piece of Tuen Mun land – the site of a historic building related to modern China’s “founding father” Sun Yat-sen – was “quite strange” and that he suspected it may involve political reasons.
The lot of greenbelt land was sold to a company – 99 per cent owned by a mainland Chinese identity card holder – for HK$5 million in November last year. Recently legal letters have been sent to residents on the land demanding they leave. Walls and a small house have already been demolished. Some trees have been felled.
The Red House on the land may have hosted Sun and his comrades when they were planning revolutions to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. A park commemorating Sun is situated next to it.
“This place is not just a historic building. It is the main location of political activities of people with close ties to Taiwan and the Kuomintang – on October 10 every year they host ceremonies here,” Chu said. “If the Sun Yat-sen park is demolished because of the land sale, this location for political activities will disappear.”
“This incident is quite strange – as far as I know this land cannot be used for residential development. I don’t understand why he bought this land for such a low price and started destruction, because it still cannot be developed immediately. There are a lot of things that are difficult to understand,” he said.
The new owner, Xiao Junfeng (translation of 肖俊鋒), was born in June 1988, and registered to the Yuexiu district of Guangzhou, according to his Chinese identity card number.
The Red House was listed as a Grade One Historical Building in 2009 but existing laws do not prevent such a building from being demolished.
Chu, lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin of the Democratic Party, alongside several pro-democracy Tuen Mun district councillors, visited the area on Friday.
They urged the Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung to take action immediately to list it as a proposed monument.
According to records seen by the lawmakers, the building has been there at least since the 1900s, much earlier than the government antiquities office’s estimate of 1920s and 1930s.
Chu said he called the Commissioner for Heritage under the Development Bureau but has yet to receive a reply.
“Public attention is the best way to save it,” Chu said.
Johnny Mak Ip-sing, a district councillor with ties to Taiwan, reported the demolitions on the property to the police, and gave a statement on Friday.
At least three households of more than a dozen reside in the Red House. Residents have said a man surnamed Hung, who lived there for some five decades, left in a hurry on Wednesday, leaving behind cats that he usually cared for. Some of the cats have now been picked up by animal care volunteers.
Andrew Wan said that the incident was similar to developments in the New Territories in which new owners destroyed structures and chopped trees down before applying for development.
“If we do not stop it now, I am concerned someone may use legal loopholes to pull down this building for development,” he said. “Residents should not be pressured until they find a place to live.”
‘I just want a bed’
Another house, separate from the Red House, is also on the piece of land.
Lau Kui-ying, the resident in the house for more than three decades, said he received a legal letter at the end of last month demanding he leave within a week, but the letter was dated a week earlier – which meant he was to leave on the same day he received the notice. He said a government water pipe was destroyed by representatives of the new owner.
“[They] threatened if we don’t leave, the electricity will be cut. I told them if you do so, I would have no choice but to report to the police,” he said.
He said a representative tried to persuade him to move his money to someone else’s bank account, so that he could apply for social welfare and public housing.
“I am absolutely against this – these people disgust me,” he said shedding tears. “My requirement is very low – I just want a bed, I just don’t want to live under a flyover… I will move if they provide me with that.”
Lau said he had asked for help from the Social Welfare Department but it said this was a matter of recovery of private premises and would not help.
Lau said his relatives had been living there since the 1950s and they were not asked to pay rent until 2005. He said he was paying land rates since the 1980s, as the former owner did not.
In 1993, the former owner sought to reclaim his rights to the properties to avoid adverse possession. The matter dragged on, Lau said, until residents lost the case in 2005. After that they had to pay a symbolic HK$2 rent, and signed an agreement that the former owner could ask them to leave by giving a certain notice, but longer than the seven days notice given by the new owner.
Currently, several security guards often stay around the premises, Lau said, but residents were free to enter or leave.
Ching Wai-kit, who lived in the Red House between 1956 and 1970 with his relatives and his sister when he was a primary school student, came to visit the house again on Friday.
He said his aunt was buried on the hill behind the house.
Asked about his feelings about the house possibly being pulled down, he said: “I am sad.”