Yau Ma Tei Theatre
Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market
Red Brick Building

Socio-cultural Context in Hong Kong

Urban development in early 20th century

Hong Kong Island became a British colony in 1842, and the Kowloon peninsula, located just north of the island, was ceded by Qing China to the United Kingdom in 1860 under the Convention of Peking. A boundary line, today known as Boundary Street, is historically significant for demarcating the northern part (Chinese Kowloon, later New Kowloon since 1898) from the southern part of (British) Kowloon. The northern part of Kowloon remained part of China until it was also leased, this time as part of the New Territories to the United Kingdom in 1898 for 99 years under the “Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory”.

In 1903, the Hong Kong colonial government started to sell crown land by auction in Kowloon Tong. Various infrastructures such as electricity and transportation were gradually coming into fruition in the Kowloon district at the turn of the century. China Light & Power had built its first-generation plants at intersection of Ho Man Tin and Chatham Road in 1901, although the site was later recalled to make way for the construction of the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR). A tunnel was also constructed under Yin Dun Shan (Yin Dun Hill), adjacent to Kowloon Tong Village, for the trains of the KCR (British section) to pass, which started operating in 1910 and running through Ho Man Tin. This resulted in the acceleration of the development of roads in Ho Man Tin area. Social life in the district began to be realised through the establishment of various institutions for health, education and leisure etc.: Kwong Wah Hospital, Yau Ma Tei Government School and the Fruit Market were all established in the vicinity, around 1911-13. Yau Ma Tei Police Station, still standing today as a neoclassical architectural heritage, was built shortly after in 1922.

Rise of population and entertainment demand

Yau Ma Tei Theatre is the only surviving pre- World War II cinema in Hong Kong. It served as an important landmark in the local community, providing affordable entertainment for the working class or grass-root population in the vicinity who turned to the movies to escape from the harsh conditions of life in the 1920s-30s. This group of people include vendors, boat people, coolies, and low-income families including from the nearby Fruit Market and typhoon shelter.

The neighbouring Fruit Market (known as gwo-laan, literally ‘fruit stalls’) was founded in 1913 between Ferry Street, Waterloo Road and Reclamation Street with Shek Lung Street passing through. The Fruit Market was originally built as shacks, and it was only until the 1920s and 1930s that the Hong Kong Government allowed vendors to build permanent shelters. Originally, the Fruit Market also sold poultry, vegetables and fish etc., but these vendors moved to the Cheung Sha Wan Vegetables Wholesaling Market and Cheung Sha Wan Fishery Wholesaling Market when they opened 1965. From then on the Fruit Market in Yau Ma Tei has operated as a specialist fruit wholesaling market. Built of several blocks of one or two storey brick and stone buildings, the Market is moreover a historically valuable site and accorded Grade II Historic Building by the Antiquities Advisory Board on December 18, 2009.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Yau Ma Tei developed as an attractive neighborhood for the young population due to increasing commercial constructions including movie theaters. These theaters have mostly relocated or closed down, leaving the area with a largely aging population today.