Sham Chung: Home of the Li Hakka Clan for 7 Generations


At first glance, Sham Chung appears to be nothing more than a lush, green field.

The open swathe of grassland is cut by a couple of lakes that are popular with picnickers and fishermen. On weekends, families with children fly kites and relax in the shade of tall, swaying palm trees.

Look a little closer, though, and you’ll start to see the clues that Sham Chung is so much more than just a pretty place for a picnic.

How to Get to Sham Chung

By Hike

(Fast, boring route)

If you plan to hike to Sham Chung, you can take bus number 299X from Shatin station and alight at Shui Long Wo. You can then walk a few meters and begin the 1.5 hour hike to Sham Chung.

(Longer, epic route)

If you’d like to experience the longer, but far more rewarding route, check out the guide below.

2. By Ferry

You can get the ferry from either Ma Liu Shui Pier in Shatin District or from Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung. The ferry schedule can be found here.

Home of the Li Hakka Clan

Depending on how you get to Sham Chung, you’ll have a high chance of encountering traditional Hakka-style buildings- some all but swallowed up by nature and others in pristine condition.

Perhaps the most well-preserved building in Sham Chung is Sham Chung Manor, which has been owned by the Li Family Clan for over seven generations!

Easily recognizable by its white coloration, pink accents and the number 1936 written on its roof, you can visit Sham Chung Manor for a drink, a snack or to soak in the wonderful history of the building.

History Brought to Life

Anyone you find working in Sham Chung Manor is likely a descendent of the original Hakka people that moved to Hong Kong some 300 years ago.

By chance, I had the privilege to talk to a 7th generation member of the Li Hakka Clan, Mike Li, who shared with me a little bit about his family’s history and the interesting circumstances and stories surrounding Sham Chung Village.

I quickly forgot about my cup of Hong Kong milk tea as I was enraptured by his tale. It inspired me to dive deeper into Hong Kong’s Hakka culture and the history of Sham Chung, too.

Much of the information and images I’ve used in this article come directly from Mike and a book he gave to me.

A Brief History of Hong Kong’s Hakka People

To appreciate the significance of Sham Chung Manor, we must take a step back and understand a bit more about the Hakka people in general.

  • Late 17th century: The Qing government enforces a series of edicts which required evacuation of coastal communities as a war took place between the Qing government and Ming separatists. In 1688, the final evacuation order was lifted once and for all, allowing Hakka-speaking communities to settle in Hong Kong.
  • 1736-1795: Sham Chung Village was first settled by members of the Lee clan during the reign of Qianlong Emperor (1735 –1796) in the Qing Dynasty (1636–1912).
  • 1879: Three Kings Chapel was built in Sham Chung
  • Late 19th century: By the end of the nineteenth century, the Hakka constituted nearly half of the population in the New Territories.
  • 1936: Sham Chung Manor Built
  • 1945-1951: The civil war in China sent more than a million Cantonese refugees across the border into the British colony between 1945 and 1951, changing the demographic makeup of Hong Kong.
  • 1950s-1970s: As post-war education became available to all children in Hong Kong, a new educated class of Hakka became more mobile in their careers. Many moved to the government-planned new towns which sprung up from the 1960s. The rural Hakka population began to decline as people moved abroad and away to work in the urban areas. By the end of the 1970s, agriculture was firmly in decline in Hakka villages.
  • 1999: Wetland sold to developers and turned into golf course that was never built
  • Present day: The Hakka community is campaigning to preserve their dialects and languages from extinction, as many younger generations are not fluent in Hakka.

Why the Li Family Clan Chose to Settle in Sham Chung

What is now thought of as a large patch of grassland was once the site of a thriving Hakka community with over 1,000 villagers in its heyday, according to Mike.

When the site of Sham Chung was chosen, the Li Clan, who moved in from Wu Kau Tang, took into consideration everything from the fertility of the land to the protection that the mountains offered.

Other areas in the New Territories that were more suitable for agriculture, like Kam Tin, Sheung Shui, Fanling, Yuen Long, Lin Ma Hang and Tai Po had already been settled by the Punti(a Cantonese endonym referring to the native Cantonese people of Guangdong and Guangxi) before the arrival of the Hakka people.

Sham Chung was chosen because of its potential to be fertile as it was the convergence site of a river fed by several inland mountains, including Ma On Shan. Indeed, the name Sham Chung describes the ‘deep gushing’ nature of the river as it flows from the mountains to the ocean.

The south, east and north sides of Sham Chung are surrounded by mountains forming a natural barrier around the bay. This protected boats and crops from the worst waves during typhoons. It’s also believed to be a gathering place of ‘Qi’ energy and was thusly chosen as a safe haven for Hakka fishermen and farmers who first settled in the area.

With other Hakka communities also forming around parts of Three Fathoms Cove and Sha Tau Kok, a strong alliance (known as the of Hakka villages were formed in the area.

How the Li Clan at Sham Chung Cultivated the Land

Since most of the best farmable areas were already occupied when the Hakka people arrived in Hong Kong, they were left with areas that were far-less suitable for the growing of crops. The villagers at Sham Chung utilized a number of amazing techniques to thrive in land that would have otherwise been too high in salinity to grow anything.

1. Walls and Sluices

By building a large wall around the bay and a smaller one in front of their farmland, the villagers at Sham Chung were able to control the flow of salt water and prevent it from destroying their crops.

A series of sluices (water-tight gates) could be raised and lowered to let water in or prevent it from traveling further. Ocean water that was let in would also bring fish with it and would be caught between the larger and smaller walls, which was an easy source of food.

The walls still work to this day, but flooding does happen occasionally. Mike shared some incredible photos of how Sham Chung gets practically submerged during rainstorms when torrents of “water come down from the mountains and overflowing streams.”

2. Terraced Paddy Fields

Since the soil around Sham Chung was relatively dry, fresh water was important for crops to grow, but couldn’t be wasted. The solution was to build a series of terraced fields where the most water-intensive trees and crops could be watered from the top and the runoff and waste would nourish the less water-dependent plants lower down in the terraces.

The terraces also stabilized the land and prevented landslides.

3. Different Crops at Different Heights

The villagers grew grains which could adapt to seawater and fresh water in low-lying areas. These grains also acted as a buffer for inland crops. On the higher-lying farmland, the villagers cultivated vegetables and fruits, and also herded poultry and livestock. In areas with dry soil, the farmers planted sweet potatoes, ranunculus yams, etc, which thrived in those conditions.

Basically, each crop has its own type and a specific cultivation position according to environmental factors, reflecting the traditional wisdom of farmers interacting with the environment.

What a Typical Sham Chung Village House Looked Like

Mike states that “Traditional Hakka homes are large and round in shape. They look like fortresses.” The homes in Sham Chung, though built by Hakka people, are more indicative of traditional village houses.

  1. Buildings were built to be completely symmetrical
  2. Sham Chung village houses have a very specific roof tiles and gables
  3. Houses were built side-by-side, very close to one another
  4. Sham Chung village Houses were often built in terraced rows
  5. The year of construction is often marked on the roofs of Sham Chung village homes

The 5 Settlements of Sham Chung

In the past, there were 5 settlements – known as wai () – in Sham Chung. Most of them are completely abandoned today. If you’re interested in visiting any of them, you can refer to the information below to learn about the condition of each settlement and where it’s located in Sham Chung.

Wan Du

This settlement, meaning ‘belly of the bay’ is located in the Southwest of Sham Chung and is currently being swallowed up by vegetation.

Pao Nei Tsai

Located on the eastern side of Sham Chung, this settlement’s name means ‘protected by a fence’. It is now in a state of severe abandonment and is being consumed by nature.

Shek Tau King

This settlement is located in the east of Sham Chung and means ‘steep stone hill’. At a certain point in the village’s history, stones were collected from Shek Tau King to produce homes and other structures around the village. Though most buildings are overrun by foliage, a few are still visible.

Kau Tong Tsuen

This was the site of a Catholic church and several village homes, too. Located near Pao Nei Tsai, The Three Kings Chapel is just about visible through the vegetation, while most of the other buildings have been reclaimed by the wilderness. Sing Kau Tong Tsuen translates as Church Village and it’s likely the only Hakka Village named after a church.

Wan Tsai

This settlement has the best preserved of all the villages in Sham Chung. A row of beautiful houses still stand to this day with the descendants of original villagers coming back on weekends to sell snacks and drinks. Wan Tsai is located opposite Kau Tong Tsai (Church Village). It is said that when the villages were all functional, the residents of these two villages would call one another ‘Opposites’ (Dui Min Tsai).

The Field Was Actually Implemented to be a Golf Course

Given that the land in Sham Chung used to be wetlands and coastal soil, how did a massive, green field end up here? Well, in 1999, developers picked Sham Chung as the site for a new golf course. After developers bought the land the golf course never came to fruition, but the field stayed.

A Historic Site Well Worth a Visit

If you do visit Sham Chung Village in the future, make sure to stop by Sham Chung Manor and grab a drink or snack. The building is incredibly well maintained and the members of the Li Clan who work there on weekends are extremely hospitable and speak great English.

You can get in touch with the folks at Sham Chung Manor through the following WhatsApp number: 93345704.

It’s the perfect mid-way stopping off point if you’re hiking and want to enhance your experience by basking in the presence of a marvelous remnant of Hong Kong’s Hakka culture.