Wan Chai as seen from Victoria Harbour
|Cantonese Jyutping||waan1 zai2|
|Literal meaning||"small bay" or "cove"|
Wan Chai (/ / Chinese: 灣仔) is a metropolitan area situated at the western part of the Wan Chai District on the northern shore of Hong Kong Island, in Hong Kong. Its other boundaries are Canal Road to the east, Arsenal Street to the west and Bowen Road to the south. The area north of Gloucester Road is often called Wan Chai North. Wan Chai is one of the busiest commercial areas in Hong Kong with many small and medium-sized companies. Wan Chai North features office towers, parks, hotels and an international conference and exhibition centre. As one of the first areas developed in Hong Kong, the locale is densely populated yet with noticeable residential zones facing urban decay. Arousing considerable public concern, the government has undertaken several urban renewal projects in recent years. There are many unique buildings and skyscrapers, most notably the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), Central Plaza and Hopewell Centre.
- 1 Names
- 2 History
- 3 Community life
- 4 Tourism and landmarks
- 5 Buildings and constructions
- 6 Government
- 7 Transportation
- 8 Gallery
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
- 12 Bibliography
Wan Chai originally began as Ha Wan (下環), literally meaning "a bottom ring" or "lower circuit". As one of the earliest developed areas in Hong Kong. Central, Sheung Wan, Sai Wan and Wan Chai are collectively known as the four rings (四環) by the locals. Wan Chai literally means "a cove" in Cantonese, but the area itself is no longer a cove due to drastic city development and continual land reclamation.
Wan Chai was first home to the many Chinese villagers living along the undisturbed coastlines in proximity to Hung Shing Temple. Most of them were fishermen, who worked around the area near Hung Shing Temple overlooking the entire harbour. Hung Shing Ye, the God of the Sea, was one of the deities worshiped by the locals.
With the growth of the British Hong Kong administration, centred in old Victoria, modern Central, Wan Chai attracted those on the fringes of society, such as coolies, who came to live on Queen's Road East. A focal point of development was Spring Gardens, a red-light zone. By the 1850s the area was already becoming a Chinese residential area. There were dockyards in Ship Street and McGregor Street for building and repairing ships. The edge of Sun Street, Moon Street and Star Street is the original site of the first power station in Hong Kong, operated by the Hongkong Electric Company, which began supplying power in 1890. One of the first water-front hospitals was the Seaman's hospital built in 1843 funded by Jardine's. In was sold to the British Royal Navy in 1873 and redeveloped into the Royal Naval Hospital. After WWII, it was later revitalized as the Ruttonjee hospital.
The district was home to several well known schools. One of these was established by the famous traditional teacher, Mo Dunmei (莫敦梅). Started as a shushu (書塾) in 1919, the school was renamed Dunmei School (敦梅學校) in 1934. It taught classical Chinese writings and Confucian ethics.
In 1936, Chinese Methodist Church 香港基督教循道衛理教會 moved from its building on Caine Road, Mid-levels, to a new building on Hennessy Road 軒尼詩道, Wanchai. This church building became the landmark of the district. In 1998, this building was replaced by a 23-story building.
During the Japanese occupation in the 1940s, many bombardments took place. Stories of cannibalism, starvation, torture and abuses by Japanese soldiers, and child labour were told. Senior residents recall vividly how they survived the hardships. The Dunmei school was closed during the Japanese occupation period. After the war, the school continued to provide Chinese education for children from families of higher income.
During the 1950s the pro-Communist underground cell network Hailiushe (海流社) was headquartered in the rooftop of a multi-story house on Spring Garden Lane. The group was successfully raided by the Hong Kong police.
Prostitution is one of the oldest occupations in Wan Chai. There are numerous historical western accounts of women trading sex for western merchandise as soon as sailors got off the trading ships. In the 1960s, Wan Chai became legendary for its exotic night life, especially for the US service men resting there during the Vietnam War. Despite rapid changes due to reclamation and redevelopment, the presence of sex workers operating among ordinary residents continues to be a distinct feature of the area. Some of the lifestyle has been illustrated in the past in movies such as The World of Suzie Wong.
Wan Chai's HKCEC was the site of the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997. The WTO Ministerial Conference in 2005 was also one of the largest international events ever hosted in Hong Kong, with 148 nations participating.
In May 2009, 300 guests and staff members at the Metropark Hotel in Wan Chai were quarantined, suspected of being infected or in contact with the H1N1 virus during the 2009 swine flu outbreak. A 25 year old Mexican man who had stayed at the hotel was later found to have the viral infection. He had traveled to Hong Kong from Mexico via Shanghai.
Wan Chai has been extended outward with a series of land reclamation schemes. Early in 1841, where the earliest coastline was located at Queen's Road East, the first reclamation took place, where it was also sold to Minister of Foreign Affairs of the British Colony. The project was privately funded and the government did not take part. There was no name associated with the first project. Soon after in 1958, the minister and his salesmen sold the land back to the Chinese after Sir Robert Brown Black was named President of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. The next reclamation that had an effect on Wan Chai was the Praya East Reclamation Scheme. The coastline was extended to Praya East, that is, today's Johnston Road and Hennessy Road. The reclamation after World War II from 1965 to 1972 pulled the coastline out to the areas around Convention Avenue and the Wan Chai Pier. The 1990s Wan Chai Development project added land to where the current HKCEC exists today.
Arts and culture
Wan Chai is a major hub of foreign and Chinese culture in Hong Kong. It is home to Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institut and the British Council. Near the waterfront are the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and Hong Kong Arts Centre, two of the most popular venues for theatrical and cultural performances in the region. The academy is a convenient venue for drama, mini-concerts, dance, and musicals. Every year there are many Broadway musicals playing in the academy, including Western plays such as Singin' in the Rain, Saturday Night Fever, and Annie. The Arts Centre also houses galleries, rehearsal rooms and a restaurant overlooking the harbour. In halloween, expect to see youngsters to dress in costumes trying to scare passersby.The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), a HK$4.8 billion convention centre extension completed in 1997, covers over 16 acres (65,000 m²) of newly reclaimed land that added an extra 38,000 m² of functional space to the existing convention centre. It remains a venue for international trade fairs, some of which are the biggest in the world. The July annual Hong Kong Book Fair along with cosplay competitions are also held at the facility.
- Cha chaan teng are local-styled fast-food restaurants, and Chinese pastry. Many of the restaurants can be found all along Jaffe Road. Numerous tea shops offer cheap Chinese herbal tea, like leong cha (lit. cool tea) and 24-mei.
- Dai pai dong, open-air restaurants in a big tent, is another classic restaurant type that appeared in Wan Chai. Despite the often unclean and uncomfortable eating conditions, many people are attracted to the freshly made steamed rice roll, congee and chow mein early in the morning. Due to urban renewal projects in recent years, most of these restaurants are fading away.
- Yum cha, is the name associated with having dim sum, e.g. Fook Lam Moon restaurant. People usually have "one bowl with two pieces" (一盅兩件, meaning a cup of tea with two dim sums) for breakfast. There were three old-styled dims restaurants remaining in Wan Chai, namely Lung Mun, Lung To, and Lung Tuen. Lung Mun, the last of the trio, closed on November 30, 2009. A number of Buddhist cuisine restaurants are also available in the area.
- The 1980s also saw an expansion of Western cuisine restaurants in Wan Chai. Nowadays, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Indian restaurants are all very common. There are also many fast food restaurants serving Cantonese and other Chinese dishes, including the franchised Maxim's and Café de Coral. Jaffe Road and Lockhart Road are famous for pubs.
The area located near the western end of Lockhart Road, including part of the parallel Jaffe Road, is one of Hong Kong island's two main bar districts, the other being the slightly more upmarket Lan Kwai Fong. Once considered primarily a red light district, the area is now much more mixed, with bars, pubs, restaurants and discos. A number of the raunchier bars still remain, their doorways festooned with lightly clothed girls from Thailand and the Philippines. This is the area in which the novel and film "The World of Suzie Wong" were set. Even now, when the United States navy visits Hong Kong, the crews congregate in this area, though their ships no longer land in Wanchai, as they formerly did.
Southorn Playground is a major landmark in Hong Kong, particularly to the senior residents. It is a place associated with entertainment as well as work, with its atmosphere changing throughout the day. In the morning, labourers come together to wait for employment. In the evening, it is altered into an open-air area with people selling food, performing magic and kung fu.
Some of the trademark activities include senior citizens playing Chinese chess. The younger generation would play football and basketball with street basketball games attracting flocks of young spectators and players. Occasionally, three-player drill contests and hip hop dance competitions are held in the park.
Wan Chai offers a wide range of religion like Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Christianity, Mormonism, Sikhism and Islam. Despite such great differences, many religious structures are located in close proximity with one another. Hung Shing Temple, for example, is a typically Taoist temple. Inside, there are Buddhist Kwun Yum chapels next to the main altar. People coming to worship Hung Shing Ye could also burn joss sticks to Kwun Yum as well. Villain hitting is another blended ceremony, combining the disproportional Confucianism, Taoism and even folk religion. Some old female "psychics" perform this ancient ceremony under the Canal Road Flyover in particular days of a lunar month. The Wan Chai Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple is the biggest Sikh temple in Hong Kong. The Asia Area Office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with chapels where multiple congregations meet throughout the week, is on Gloucester Road.
Tourism and landmarks
Wan Chai offers historical conservation spots including Old Wan Chai Post Office, Hung Shing Temple and Pak Tai Temple. Many of the medium-sized shopping centres are named in numerals, such as Oriental 188, 328, and 298 Computer Centre. The numbers may come from the earlier days when prostitution houses were all numbered, and referred to as "big numbers" (大冧巴, dai lum bah). There are also many commercial complexes and skyscrapers. The HK$4.4 billion 78-story skyscraper Central Plaza currently stand as the third tallest in Hong Kong. The apex of Central Plaza is designed as a unique neon tower clock. It consists of four neon spandrel bands, each representing 15 minutes, and the colour changes from top to bottom. When the four bands are of the same colour, an hour has passed. More than an innovative clock, "Lightime" has become a new symbol the same way Eiffel Tower reminds people of Paris. Small but free art exhibitions are on also the second floor year round. Other tourist attractions include Golden Bauhinia Square featuring a flag-raising ceremony held daily outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The ceremony is enhanced on July 1 (handover anniversary) and October 1 (National Day).
A 3-story pergola exhibit is built opposite to Li Chit Garden. Tai Fat Hau footbridge also holds an art display of 30,000 citizens' fingerprints slated for the Guinness Book of World Records. The sticker pictures on 50 poles of the bridge are roughly called the "50 landscapes of Wan Chai" (灣仔五十景).
Lovers' Rock reclines on the hillside of Bowen Road near Shiu Fai Terrace and looks like a stone pen sticking out of a stone base. This special looking rock is said to have granted happy marriages to devoted worshippers. Many people are attracted by its reputation.
Buildings and constructions
Throughout Wan Chai's history, construction styles have changed according to the architectural movement at the time.
|Qing Dynasty||Chinese-style||Hung Shing Temple|
|1910s-1920s||Neoclassical architecture||Old Wan Chai Post Office|
|1930s||Streamline Moderne architecture||Wan Chai Market|
|Post-WWII||Bauhaus-style||Shop houses (tong-lau) on Lee Tung Street, Tai Yuen Street
In the 1950s and 1960s, an increasing number of girlie bars and nightclubs were opened in the red-light district by Jaffe and Lockhart Road. The establishments entertained visiting sailors landing at Fenwick Pier. Beyond Gloucester Road is the commercial area developed in the late 1970s and 1980s, a time at which Hong Kong underwent economic development at full speed. At the same time, buildings like the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, HKCEC, and Central Plaza were constructed on the newly reclaimed land.
Skyscrapers in Wan Chai include:
- Central Plaza, 78 floors, offices, completed in 1992
- Hopewell Centre, 64 floors, offices, completed in 1980
- Sun Hung Kai Centre, 56 floors, offices, completed in 1981
- May House, 47 floors, government offices, completed in 2004. Headquarters of the Hong Kong Police Force
- China Online Centre, 52 floors, offices, completed in 2000
- Three Pacific Place, 40 floors, offices, completed in 2004
- Convention Plaza Office Tower, 50 floors, offices, completed in 1990
- Immigration Tower, 49 floors, government offices, completed in 1990
- Revenue Tower, 49 floors, government offices, completed in 1990
- Wanchai Tower, 44 floors, government offices, completed in 1985
- MLC Tower, 40 floors, offices, completed in 1998
- Wu Chung House, 40 floors, offices and government offices, completed in 1992
- Great Eagle Centre, 35 floors, offices, completed in 1983
- Shui On Centre, 35 floors, offices, completed in 1987
- QRE Plaza, 35 floors, offices and shops, completed in 2007
- China Resources Building, 48 floors, offices, completed in 1983
- Harbour Centre, 33 floors, offices, completed in 1983
Urban decay and renewal
Many of Wan Chai's older buildings now face a serious problem of urban decay. In order to tackle the problem, the government has launched a series of urban renewal projects to bring new life into the area. Many local residents have relocation worries such as whether the Urban Renewal Authority can compensate enough to put them in a new space of equal size. Other concerns involve the loss of building character that make up part of that Hong Kong cultural identity.
- Demolition of Lee Tung St - Old buildings on Lee Tung Street are scheduled for demolition. Many businesses have shut down or moved out. Today, most stores have signs on their gate proclaiming "This is an Urban Renewal Authority Property".
- Renovation of Tai Yuen St - Visitors may gain a distinctive experience of bustling local street-stall shopping in Tai Yuen Street. Many huckster stalls sell a wide variety of dried goods, garments, household products, dumplings, and Chinese herbal medicine. This predominantly tourist attraction area is a place where old houses and modern mansions mingle, creating an interesting disparity.
- Renewal of Southorn Playground — In partnership with the Wan Chai District Council, the British Council Hong Kong invited English designer, Thomas Heatherwick, and urban renewal specialist, Fred Manson, to lead a public art project at Southorn Playground.
Central and Wan Chai reclamation
After the completion of the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation Feasibility Study in 1989, the Land Development Policy Committee endorsed the idea of an ongoing series of reclamation. The reclamation comprises three district development cells separated by parks, namely, Central, Tamar and Exhibition. Each cell was further divided into five phases.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department has its headquarters in Immigration Tower in Wan Chai. The Hong Kong Police Force operates the Wan Chai District, headquartered at the Wan Chai Police District Headquarters at No.1 Arsenal Street, within the Hong Kong Police Headquarters Compound. Maggie Farley of the Los Angeles Times said in 1996, referring to the then Wan Chai Police Station, that the police headquarters was "a stolid, whitewashed building with square pillars and breezy verandas".
Geographically, Wan Chai is the midpoint between the west (West Point/Central) and the east (Causeway Bay/North Point), linking all points on Hong Kong Island. The transport infrastructure is efficient, convenient and highly accessible.
Star Ferry is the sole ferry operator in the area at Wan Chai Pier. Several lines cross Victoria Harbour from HKCEC, Wan Chai. Destinations include Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui and Whampoa Garden in Hung Hom. Even though there are now numerous ways to cross Victoria Harbour, the Star Ferry continues to provide an inexpensive option. Numerous shipping companies also have their headquarters in Wanchai such as Anglo-Eastern Group.
Main roads and tunnels
Wan Chai's Gloucester Road is connected to Cross-Harbour Tunnel, the first underwater tunnel in Hong Kong. Bridging Hong Kong Island at Kellet Island and a reclaimed site at Hung Hom Bay in Kowloon, the tunnel provides a direct link. Prior to the tunnel's opening in 1972, crossing the harbour depended solely on the Star ferries. Linking the main financial districts on both sides of Victoria Harbour, the tunnel carries 123,000 vehicles daily. Other roads such as Queen's Road East have been one of the earliest development spots in the history of Hong Kong. Landmarks such as Hennessy Road were named after previous Governors, leaving an impression of its Colonial past.
Other roads and tunnels include:
Mass Transit Railway
The main MTR railway is beneath Hennessy Road in the locality. Due to the large area of Wan Chai, more than 50 entry/exit gates and 8 entrances/exits are set up. One of the entrances/exits is on the footbridge along O'Brien Road, which leads to Immigration Tower in Wan Chai North.
- Bus routes:
- Tunnel buses routes:
- There is a bus terminal opposite the Star Ferry Pier.
There are two types of minibus in Wan Chai, green minibus and red minibus. In general, green minibuses operate scheduled service, with fixed routes and fixed fares. Red minibuses run on non-scheduled service, although some routes may in effect become fixed over time.
- Green: 4A, 4B, 4C, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 14M, 21A, 21M, 24A, 24M, 25, 28, 30, 31, 35M, 36X, 39M, 40, 56, 69
A printing shop closed down with a sign posted by the Urban Renewal Authority
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- Farley, Maggie. "LAW ENFORCEMENT; Colony's Expatriate Police See '97 as Incentive to Hand In Badges; Those who opt to leave Hong Kong cite reasons ranging from uncertainty under Chinese rule to perks for early retirement. Series: LIVES IN TRANSITION. Hong Kong Awaits China's Takeover. One in an occasional series." Los Angeles Times. December 6, 1996. Part A Foreign Desk. Retrieved on 14 August 2011. "In the Wan Chai police headquarters, a stolid, whitewashed building with square pillars and breezy verandas[...]"
- Bray, Denis.  (2001). Hong Kong Metamorphosis. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 962-209-550-X.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wan Chai.|
- A memoir of a Wan Chai District resident (Traditional Chinese only)
- Retracing the Wan Chai Coastline — with oral history interviews with old residents (Traditional Chinese only)
- More pictures of Wan Chai
- Display Wan Chai 1841-1997 Government Records Service
- Location map in Wan Chai - Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
- A Study on Historical and Architectural Context of Wan Chai Market written by the Hong Kong Institute of Architects. May 2004. (Adobe Systems Acrobat pdf format)
- Project pages
- "Wan Chai ‧Today‧Tomorrow and After" Roadshow
- Save Wan Chai Market Action
- Wan Chai Memory‧Photo and Writing Competition
- Hong Kong Fun in 18 Districts — Wan Chai
- Remembering Wanchai – A Community Oral History Project conducted by the University of Hong Kong Centre of Asian Studies
- Centamap, providing information of transport in Wan Chai
|Central and Western District||Eastern District|