The Antiquities Advisory Board has rejected a proposal to declare the Red House in Tuen Mun a proposed monument. However, the owner of the property, which is linked to modern China’s “founding father,” said he was willing to discuss with the authorities how it may be preserved.

The large piece of land, which includes the house and a park commemorating Sun Yat-sen, was sold to a company owned by a mainland Chinese person for HK$5 million last November. Sun was believed to have planned revolutions in the area in the early 20th century, but there were not enough evidence to trace the exact building date of the house.

After it was sold, some of the property’s exterior walls were recently demolished, though the works did not receive the required approval from the Building Department.

Red House Hung Lau Tuen Mun
Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

A rally was held urging the government to preserve it by declaring it a proposed monument. Such a status would grant the site protection for a year until further ratings are approved.

The Antiquities Advisory Board, which consists of professionals who advise the government on preserving heritage sites, called for a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

A document sent to members said the house “does not appear to have reached the high threshold for its declaration as a monument, barring any new information that has not hitherto been considered.”

Red House Hung Lau Tuen Mun
Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

It said the Buildings Department has been inspecting the site every day since February 18 when the news broke. It said there were no ongoing alteration or demolition works taking place and the main building had remained intact.

The document added that the Commissioner for Heritage’s Office, which is under the Development Bureau, as well as the Antiquities and Monuments Office have each contacted the new owner’s representative. They have suggested exploring preservation proposals with the owner.

The bureau said at the meeting that the new owner did not have any plan for demolition or reconstruction after speaking to his representative.

Red House 1977
Red House in 1977. Photo: Antiquities Advisory Board.

Groups flock to the park next to the house every year on October 10 to commemorate the revolution that led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the founding of the republic. The Republic of China’s government fled to Taiwan following defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and the People’s Republic of China was founded by the Communist Party. Today both governments nominally claim to represent the entirety of China, but they both praise the achievements of Sun Yat-sen.

Construction date dispute

The house was declared a grade one historic building in 2009. The Antiquities Advisory Board had said it was “probably built in the 1920s at the earliest.”

But history researcher and former member of the board Ko Tim-keung previously told Ming Pao that the house already existed in the 1905 plans of the Castle Peak Farm – the previous name of the area.

Board member Christopher Law Kin-chung said at the meeting that he supported listing it as a temporary, proposed monument, since the rating alone would not protect the house from demolition, Oriental Daily reported.

He said the house has an inseparable link with the 1911 revolution in China in many people’s minds, and that it should be temporarily protected so its potential historical value can be proven.

But after a discussion between members, they decided it was not necessary to use their “ultimate power” to declare the house as a proposed monument for the time being.

“If, in the future, the owner or anyone does anything that affects the existing historical value, we will start the mechanism to declare it a proposed monument immediately,” board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo said after the meeting.

“But we are not implementing this decision right now, since we can see the owner is willing to discuss how to preserve it, after hearing reports from the [Antiquities and Monuments Office] secretariat and the government.”

Asked by reporters if it would be too late to begin the process if further destruction occurs, Lam said that people would notice such developments very quickly and the board will respond.

Currently, three households made up of around 20 people live in Red House. Another household occupies a separate house on the piece of land sold to the new owner. They have been asked to leave, at short notice, but some said they needed to find new places to live before vacating.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.