HONG KONG– Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, Hong Kong’s last working sawmill, has been processing timber in the city for 75 years.
Soon, the family-owned factory near the territory’s border with mainland China may be forced to close as part of a development project: it was warned earlier this year that it had to leave its current premises, which ‘it has occupied for nearly four decades, make way for a development project.
Hong Kong residents flocked to Chi Kee to buy pieces of wood piled around the sawmill and collect a little piece of Hong Kong heritage.
According to the local newspaper South China Morning Post, Chi Kee was supposed to have left on June 30, but he was unable to move because of the tons of wood left there.
Today, carpentry factories like Chi Kee have become a declining industry in Hong Kong, now that mass-produced imported furniture has become readily available. Most sawmills have closed or moved across the border to China, where manufacturing costs are cheaper.
The factory was established in 1947, around the time Hong Kong’s timber industry began and the city became known for furniture manufacturing. It was first located on Hong Kong Island, but in the 1980s it moved to Kwu Tung, a rural area in the New Territories.
This area is slated for development as part of Hong Kong’s Northern Metropolis plan.
It’s a plan to develop land near the Chinese border into an IT hub that could provide tens of thousands of jobs and housing in the densely populated city, the world’s most expensive real estate market.
The plan also aims to integrate Hong Kong, a former British colony with its own economy, more closely with the neighboring city of Shenzhen across the border.
“At the time, we thought it was a remote area, it wouldn’t be affected, but who knew it would become one of the most important areas for development?” said Wong Hung-kuen, Chi Kee Sawmill & Director of Timber.
“So we have to hand it over to our country because the land belongs to the country. We just hope to get help and sympathy from the government,” said Wong, who has given up on his dream of turning the sawmill into a museum.
The Hong Kong Development Bureau, which is in charge of city planning, said in a statement that Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber was told he was expected to leave in the second half of 2021, but this was extended to the end of June 2022, “which should have allowed sufficient time for the operator to arrange the removal and, if necessary, relocation”.
Chi Kee was offered land compensation, compensation for disturbance caused by the development project and planning assistance, he said.
Although authorities have offered to help dispose of Chi Kee’s wood scraps, Wong wants to turn them into products such as furniture, which he says would be less expensive.
As of now, it is unclear when Chi Kee will close permanently.
Local conservationists, such as Yu Ka-sing, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, say that while the sawmill is popular with the public, it is difficult to preserve it because it has no historical or architectural significance. .
Still, those who flocked to Chi Kee after hearing his days are numbered say he represents a part of Hong Kong’s heritage. Even a small piece of wood has become something to cling to in a rapidly changing city.
Jones Kwong was one of those visitors.
“I think it’s a shame. It’s the only one left in this traditional industry, and it’s going to be demolished soon,” Kwong said.