To many foreigners, Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon maybe under the shadow of its two neighboring districts — Mong Kok to the north and Tsim Sha Tsui in the south. In fact, Yau Ma Tei was one of the most developed settlement sites of the Chinese in the Kowloon Peninsula in the early days. Long before the ceding of Kowloon to the British in 1860, there was a sizable floating population along its shores, due to the existence of a large shallow-water creek, which provided anchorage for fishing vessels and the boat-houses of boat dwellers.
According to the inscription found in the Tin Hau Temple in the community, the district was named “Ma Tei” at 1870 – “Ma” can either refer to “sesame” or “jute”, and “Tei” means “field” or “open ground”. The word Yau (literally means “oil”) was later added which explains the origin of the place name. Tung oil and jute were both common materials associated with Hong Kong’s fishing community. Tung oil was a traditional material used in the construction and repair of local fishing boats, especially as a sealant for joints, cracks and holes on timber boat hulls for waterproofing. Jute was the traditional material for mooring ropes and fishing nets used by local fishermen.
It remains a harbour for fishermen after several times of reclamation by the Hong Kong Government. Inland, the reclamation became the residential area for the ever-increasing Chinese population, with retail shops on the street level. Shanghai Street was the main street before being replaced by Nathan Road. Along Waterloo Road is the century-old Fruit Market; its adjacent Yau Ma Tei Theatre was once the largest theatre in Kowloon. The Kwong Wah Hospital was the first hospital on the Kowloon peninsula, established in 1911.