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.