Victoria’s Secret: the Pokfulam prison with no name

I head to Victoria Road in leafy Pokfulam, with a dozen members of the Royal Asiatic Society’s heritage volunteers group, to investigate an overgrown compound of white buildings stretching down the hillside towards the harbour. These abandoned buildings have no name, and no street number. What are they?

The answer may come as a surprise even to people who live nearby. In 1967, Hong Kong was seized by a burst of pro-Mao agitation as a knock-on effect of the Cultural Revolution taking place over the border. Chanting rioters confronted the police and picketed the gates of Government House, bombs were planted on the streets, and transport networks were paralyzed. Fearing chaos, and even invasion by China, the colonial government went on the offensive. The Hong Kong police force’s Special Branch (the unit responsible for gathering intelligence) rounded up prominent leftists, and these buildings were used as a secret detention centre for them. Choi Wei-hung, the secretary of the Chinese Reform Association, was incarcerated in a tiny cell here for 18 months.

Before this, the compound — which was originally built as the Mess of the Royal Engineers — was an interrogation centre for Taiwanese spies who used Hong Kong as a base for anti-communist espionage. In 1989, student leaders smuggled away from the crackdown at Tiananmen Square were housed and debriefed here before before being sent to start new lives overseas. By 1997, Special Branch had been disbanded and the centre was left to be reclaimed by the jungle.

Blogger EastSouthWestNorth has translated some Chinese newspaper stories about the site, as well as reprinting some SCMP articles from a few years ago. Today the structures are in a state of disrepair, but could be restored and put to good use. Like most old buildings in Hong Kong, they have tall ceilings and large windows, and the upstairs rooms have wide-open views across the Lamma Channel. Maybe a heritage trail could be laid out to link these relics of colonial history to the older gun emplacements and pillboxes which are still hidden in the dense foliage along this shore.

7 thoughts on “Victoria’s Secret: the Pokfulam prison with no name”

  1. Interesting article.

    I am a photographer and one of my ongoing projects is heritage buildings in Hong Kong. This is not yet a heritage building, but it qualifies to be one. Could you give me some details on how to get there? Any restriction to access?

    Thank you for your help.

    Ka Tai

  2. Hi Ka Tai,

    It’s very close to the terminus of the no. 5 bus on Victoria Road. You can see the white buildings over the wall. But there is currently no public access. Good news is that the government is considering uses for the compound, so with any luck it will be preserved. There is also a WW2-era gun battery just down the hillside, and plenty of pillboxes and other old ruins, so possibly some sort of heritage trail could be laid out in future.

  3. Hi Pete,

    I represent an animal licensed charity in hk and currently looking for space and land to start off our centre… We’ve tried to approach many gov departments and as you might have guessed we are still awaiting their reply… We’d like to see if we can use this bit of hertitage to build our centre as well as preserve this beautiful history… Like most, we don’t know much of it… Have you gained access to it? We have visited it many times, but of course never been in… Would be nice to go in and at least pray and hope the hk gov will rent us the land for charity use… Can you tell me more if you know of any? Such as possible uses that have been put forward? I’d like to do a proposal for funds, but I need access to the place to do a proposal, size, pix etc… Can you aware any info?

    Thanks!
    Jen

    1. Hi Jen, yes, I’ve been in, as part of a heritage group which was invited by the government to give views on its potential uses.

      It’s currently looked after by the Government Property Agency — have you contacted them?

  4. Hi Pete,

    Yes I have… I have contacted them a few times, but they have referred me to the different departments such as social welfare, AFCD, planning etc to apply first. Since the Property Agency cannot proceed with my request directly, they need to get some application from the social welfare etc… Right pain because those department do not know either… AFCD is helpful, I’ll try them.

    Thanks and I’ll let you know how i get on.

    Jen

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