Skip to main content

Sustainable Solutions for Hong Kong’s Villages

Hong Kong is one of the world’s greatest cities. Less well-known is that there are also 600 villages in Hong Kong, mostly in the New Territories and outlying islands. Over the decades many have been abandoned or become rundown as villagers moved overseas and young people left to seek better jobs. One of the more established ones is Lai Chi Wo, a Hakka village in a remote valley in north-eastern New Territories, has still suffered from years of neglect after many villagers gave up farming and migrated to the UK in the 1950s. As part of an ongoing project through the Policy for Sustainability Lab under the Centre for Civil Society and Governance at the University of Hong Kong since 2013, a programme supported by HSBC, villagers are being encouraged to return to Lai Chi Wo to revitalise the village so that it will survive for future generations.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s greatest cities, famous for its gleaming skyscrapers, dramatic harbour setting and dynamic lifestyle.

Less well-known is that there are also 600 villages in Hong Kong, mostly in the New Territories and outlying islands. Over the decades many have been abandoned or become rundown as villagers moved overseas and young people left to seek better jobs.   

One of the more established ones is Lai Chi Wo, a Hakka village in a remote valley in north-eastern New Territories, which is only accessible by boat or a 2-hour hike. But it has still suffered from years of neglect after many villagers gave up farming and migrated to the UK in the 1950s. 

As part of an ongoing project through the Policy for Sustainability Lab under the Centre for Civil Society and Governance at the University of Hong Kong since 2013, a programme supported by HSBC, villagers are being encouraged to return to Lai Chi Wo to revitalise the village so that it will survive for future generations.

Dr Winnie Law, Deputy Director of the Centre, said the key to the success of Lai Chi Wo’s revitalisation is the closely bonded village community as the people have a strong sense of belonging and stewardship, willing to help look after the natural environment and pass down their culture and traditions.

We are trying to reactivate the farmland using eco-friendly methods, low carbon farming methods,” Dr Law said. “And what's also very important is to help them to set up a collective management system, where small farms, when they are together, they can have shared resources to use.”

And in 2017, the Policy for Sustainability Lab launched a new phase of the revitalisation work with a range of socio-economic models, including eco-production and co-creation of the community, to help Lai Chi Wo become a sustainable and resilient village. 

“Sustainability is trying to use less resources, achieve more for everybody,” Dr Law said. 

As a measure of the success of the project, it has been recognised by the United Nations Development Programme as one of the best nature-based solutions to achieve sustainability, and Lai Chi Wo has been listed in The Lonely Planet as one of the “must visit” destinations in Asia. The project was mentioned in the Policy Address, the top-level policy directive in Hong Kong, as an exemplar of successful rural revitalisation. 

Some of the principles developed from Lai Chi Wo are now being used in five other villages in Hong Kong, including the nearby Mui Tsz Lam, and if they prove to be successful, Dr Law hopes to create a feasible model and replicate it in other Hong Kong villages, and possibly elsewhere.

Back to KE Stories