Event #2: Yim Tin Tsai
May 17 2014 / 1pm – 6pm

Yim Tin Tsai Island: The Catholic Hakka village

A small island off the coast of Sai Kung, Yim Tin Tsai is a unique location in Hong Kong. Now abandoned, the isle was once the home of the Chan family, who were of Hakka origin and who settled in the area about 300 hundred ago. In 1864, Catholic priests came to the area to perform missionary work and started to preach to the locals. All the villagers were subsequently converted to Catholicism and baptised as early as 1875. St. Joseph’s Chapel has been the island’s most recognisable landmark since its completion in 1890, and the rural Catholic Hakka village that surrounds it is a fine example of Hong Kong’s cross-cultural landscape.

The Chinese name of Yim Tin literally means “salt pans”, while Tsai means “homeland”, reminding the villagers of their origin, Bao’an County in Guangdong Province. In the old days, residents were mostly engaged in farming and the production of salt through evaporation.

Yim Tin Tsai has been uninhabited since the 1990s, after villagers abandoned their fields and moved out to urban areas of Hong Kong or migrated overseas. Nevertheless, efforts have been made to repair the island’s roads and salt pans in recent years, and visitors can get a glimpse of life in the old days of Yim Tin Tsai through the derelict farmhouses, abandoned farmlands and fish ponds.

Ching Po School

Built in 1920, Ching Po School was the only school on Yim Tin Tsai. Like many other rural schools in Hong Kong, teachers had students from all ages and grades in one single classroom. Until the 1960s, Ching Po School was the only school in rural Sai Kung to offer English as a subject. As residents moved away and the village became uninhabited, the school has been transformed into a museum, showcasing old tools that villagers once used and helping visitors understand local Hakka culture.

St. Joseph’s Chapel

St. Joseph’s Chapel was inaugurated and consecrated in 1890, and it is still the most prominent structure on the island. The building features statues of St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus, as well as of St. Joseph Freinademetz – who was stationed in Yim Tin Tsai for two years in the late 19th century – wearing Chinese clothing. Conservation works were initiated by the families of the Chan clan and completed in May 2004. The Chapel was given the Award of Merit by the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2005 and was listed as a Grade 2 Historic Building by the Hong Kong Antiquities Advisory Board. Though Yim Tin Tsai is uninhabited today, members of the Chan clan, both in Hong Kong and from overseas, return to Yim Tin Tsai for mass at the St. Joseph’s Chapel every May to celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph.