HONG KONG (AP) – Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, the last operating sawmill in Hong Kong, has been processing timber in the city for 75 years.
The family-run factory near the territory’s border with mainland China may soon be forced to close as part of a development project: it received notice earlier this year that it had to leave its current premises, where it has lived for almost four decades, to leave. to make way for a development project.
Hong Kong residents visited Chi Kee to buy pieces of wood piled high around the sawmill and collect a small piece of Hong Kong heritage.
According to local newspaper South China Morning Post, Chi Kee was supposed to have left by June 30, but he could not move because of the tons of wood left there.
Today, woodworking factories like Chi Kee are a sunset industry in Hong Kong, now that mass-produced and imported furniture is readily available. Most sawmills have closed or moved across the border into China, where manufacturing costs are cheaper.
The factory was established in 1947, around the time when Hong Kong’s woodworking industry took off and the city gained a reputation for furniture manufacturing. It was originally located on the island of Hong Kong but in the 1980s it moved to Kwu Tung, a rural area in the New Territories.
That area is to be developed under the Northern Hong Kong City plan.
It is a blueprint to develop land near the Chinese border into an IT hub that could provide thousands of jobs and homes in the densely populated city, the world’s most expensive property market.
The plan also involves integrating Hong Kong, a former British colony, into its own economy, closer to neighboring Shenzhen, across the border.
“Back then, we thought this was a remote area, untouched, but who knew it would be one of the most important areas for development?” said Wong Hung-kuen, director of Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber.
“So we have to hand it over to our country because the land belongs to the country. We hope to get help and sympathy from the government,” said Wong, who gave up on the dream of turning the sawmill into a museum.
The Hong Kong Development Bureau, which oversees the city’s urban planning, said in a statement that Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber was told it would have to leave in the second half of 2021, but that was extended to the end of June 2022, ” which should leave enough time for the operator to arrange a transfer and relocate if necessary.”
Chi Kee was offered land compensation, compensation for disruption to the development project and assistance with planning, he said.
Although authorities have offered to help dispose of Chi Kee’s remaining wood, Wong wants to turn it into products such as furniture, which he says would be less wasteful.
As of now, it is unclear when Chi Kee will shut down for good.
Local preservationists such as University of Hong Kong assistant professor Yu Ka-sing say that while the sawmill is admired by the public, it is difficult to preserve it because it has no historical or architectural significance.
Still, those who flock to Chi Kee after hearing its days are numbered say it represents part of Hong Kong’s heritage. A small piece of wood is worth owning in a rapidly changing city.
Jones Kwong was among those visitors.
“I think it’s a shame. It is the only one left in this traditional industry, and it is to be demolished soon,” said Kwong.