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What is industrial heritage? Why should we research and conserve it?

What would you think of when talking about industrial heritage? Rows of vacant factories or abandoned rail tracks and bridges? Perhaps you may think that industrial heritage is usually found in some early industrialised countries in Europe and America and it has less to do with Hong Kong, a city that is now firmly developed on the service industry such as finance, trade and tourism.


Even when remarking on Hong Kong’s industrialisation, people tend to speak more about the city’s rising textile industry in the post-war era. Yet have you ever realised that there were a couple of operating mines in the first half of the 20th century? The MOS Iron Mine is one of them and was the only well-developed iron mine in Hong Kong. Its history of extraction and operation stretched over half century and its ownership had been changed in different hands several times before its production reached the peak in the late 1960s, when the mine shipped nearly 200,000 tons of iron ores to Japan in a year!


Today, there are still many structures and remains left at the site, including the underground tunnels and the settlements, where thousands of miners sweated and suffered, weaving together many unforgettable stories of their works and lives. As the understanding of “industrial heritage” continues to evolve in the past decades, many people have come to realise and argue that industrial heritage should not be limited to only structures and mechanical equipment in association with industrial activities. The MOS Iron Mine has a rich and peculiar culture and community composition in history.

From 1950s to 1970s, the mining village could be described as a truly “global village”, with “villagers” coming from all over the world. There were miners who were refugees from various provinces of China, a Belgian father and several Western nuns retreating also from Mainland China and technicians from different regions of Japan. Facing unprecedented global changes and for different reasons, they all ended up at MOS, co-writing a chapter of local history that is different from what is known to the general public.


These unorthodox stories of Hong Kong’s industrial development, now engraved in the abandoned structures and remains of the mine, deserve our in-depth investigation and appreciation because it is not mainstream and less known.

The ongoing process of globalisation and economic restructuring had already led to de-industrialisation and rationalization of industries in some developed countries by the mid-20th century. Industrial buildings and structures were left vacant. In some cases, they were demolished and replaced by some new industries due to competition for land uses.


However, we cannot neglect the lasting influence of the industrial revolution and industrial processes on the development of human society. These buildings and structures are important evidence and assets for us to understand not only to the interrelated socio-economic and technological histories but also contemporary social development. The threats of having these structures with embedded human history being removed have forced people to consider how we can conserve and revitalise these industrial heritage sites.

Not only are industrial structures and technologies in threat. So are the collective memories of workers and industrial communities, their identity and culture. The fields of industrial archaeology and industrial heritage conservation developed since the mid-20th century have emphasised both material and technology heritage as well as intangible heritage such as community culture and social connections in industrial society. In addition, industrial activities from the supply of raw materials, production to export often involved interregional production-supply chains, accompanied by urbanisation and population migration, involving interrelated socio-economic activities in a much wider geographical realm.


Therefore, through studying and conserving industrial heritage, not only can we understand more about local industrial, technological, economic and social development but more importantly, we can also save conserve these precious community memories and disappearing industrial culture and tradition. These heritages can enrich our knowledge of the historical development of the entire region.


This research is sponsored by HKSAR government’s “Built Heritage Conservation Fund”, aiming at exploring the value and conservation strategy of historic architecture with a “point-line-plane” approach.


The P-L-P approach in this study is inspired by The Dublin Principles. In order to capture the evolving and full cultural values of P-L-P of a heritage site, the significance and conservation values of individual historic industrial buildings and its immediate natural and built environment need to be understood and established in connection to the evolving socio-economic and technological developments at different geographical scales over time.

The 2016 Policy Address announced the setting up of the Built Heritage Conservation Fund with $500 million earmarked to implement the recommendations of the Antiquities Advisory Board pursuant to its policy review on the conservation of built heritage. The Built Heritage Conservation Fund was established in 2016 to provide subsidies for public education, community involvement and publicity activities, and academic research apart from covering certain existing government initiatives and activities on built heritage conservation including the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme and the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme.


In 2017, two new funding schemes for public engagement projects and thematic research were launched under the Fund. This research project is under “Funding Scheme for Thematic Research on Built Heritage Conservation”.


This research is titled “A multi-dimensional “point-line-plane” approach for industrial heritage conservation in Hong Kong: A case study of Ma On Shan (MOS) Iron Mine”. As a Built Heritage Conservation Fund project under one of its priority research areas that focuses on the conservation of clusters of historic agricultural/industrial buildings and structures in Hong Kong, this research has chosen the MOS Iron Mine, which is close to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as a case study.


The research team comprises members from different disciplinary background, including urban planning, population and economic geography, architecture, cultural studies, social works etc. and employs the internationally recognised 2011 Joint ICOMOS-TICCIH Principles for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes (The Dublin Principles) to explore the significance of the MOS Iron Mine and the challenges and opportunities involved in conserving the site with a “point-line-plane” approach as advocated in The Dublin Principles.


From late 1990s, various organisations have been making contributions to conserving the MOS Iron Mine. Based on the legacy of Order of Friars Minor (OFM), the MOS St. Joseph's Secondary School (MOSSJSS) developed a school-based curriculum “Cyber Saddle” to encourage the younger generations to investigate the history embedded in the built and natural environment in the MOS Iron Mine. The MOS Promotion of Livelihood and Recreation Association (MOSPLRA), a local charitable institution, made substantial contributions since the early 2000s by publishing various research reports and edited books to document and communicate the story of the MOS Iron Mine to the wider public. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong (ELCHK), the religious organisation rooted in MOS since the 1950s, started in 2012 to revitalise the Yan Kwong Church Complex, converting it into an education-cum-heritage centre for the MOS Iron Mine named “Grace Youth Camp (On Shan Exploration Museum)”. Their campaigns highlight the intangible industrial, natural, cultural and religious heritages of the MOS Iron Mine landscape.

As of 2016, most of the relics related to the MOS Iron Mine have been graded by the Antiquities Advisory Board. However, despite grading efforts, the structures are not statutorily protected, not to mention the handling of the values of the MOS Iron Mine landscape.


In 2017, ELCHK successfully applied for the "Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme on Built Heritage" by The Commissioner for Heritage's Office. As the financial scheme is for renovating individual buildings and not the whole landscape, conservation of the MOS Iron Mine still has a long way to go.


Through collaboration with the above organisations and based on their research findings, we undertook a comprehensive investigation of the economic, technological, social and cultural histories of the MOS Iron Mine, integrating its tangible and intangible heritage to elucidate the formation and significance of this unique industrial heritage. This chapter of post-war development and industrialisation is little known to the citizens of Asia’s world city.

Multi-dimensional “Point-Line-Plane”


It is stated in The Dublin Principles that “Industrial heritage illustrates important aspects of local, national and international history and interactions over time and cultures.”


The P-L-P approach in this study is inspired by The Dublin Principles. In order to capture the evolving and full cultural values of P-L-P of a heritage site, the significance and conservation values of individual historic industrial buildings and its immediate natural and built environment need to be understood and established in connection to the evolving socio-economic and technological developments at different geographical scales over time.

“The Dublin Principles”


The Dublin Principles, as developed and released jointly by ICOMOS and TICCIH, is the most acknowledged guiding document for practising industrial heritage conservation. The Principles were adopted by the 17th ICOMOS General Assembly on 28 November 2011, and states that industrial heritage “reflects the profound connection between the cultural and natural environment”, consists of both tangible and intangible dimensions, and its cultural legacy “shaped the life of communities and brought major organisational changes to entire societies and the world in general.” The multi-dimensional definition mentioned in this document stimulates us to adopt the “point-line-plane” approach to research on MOS’s industrial heritage.


For the full document, please click here to access the webpage of TICCIH.

Research Team

首席研究員Principle Investigator
伍美琴教授 Prof. NG, Mee Kam

合作研究員 ( 按姓氏字母順序排列) Co-Investigators (in alphabetical order according to the surname)
李慧瑩博士 Dr. LEE, Joanna Wai Ying
李倞助理教授 Prof. LI, Victor Jing
毛家謙博士 Dr. MO, Kar Him
沈建法教授 Prof. SHEN, Jianfa
田恒德副教授 Prof. TIEBEN, Hendrik
胡嘉明副教授 Prof. WU, Ka-ming

項目顧問 ( 按合作關係確定時間排序) Project Advisers (in chronological order according to the date of engagement)
馬鞍山民康促進會 Ma On Shan Promotion of Livelihood and Recreation Association (MOSPLRA):
  楊祥利先生 ( 總幹事) Mr. YEUNG, Cheung Li (CEO)
基督教香港信義會鞍山探索館 The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong Grace Youth Camp (ELCHK-GYC):
  樊文韜先生 ( 項目經理) Mr. FAN, Frankie Man Tao (Coordinator)
  陳子恒先生 ( 館長) and Mr. CHAN, Ric Tsz Hang (Curator)
方濟會 The Order of Friars Minor (OFM):
  伍維烈修士 Brother NG, William Wei Lit
周慧泉教授 Prof. ZHOU, Mary Huiquan
Prof. Ian Morley
Prof. Jeremy Yellen

研究員( 按姓氏字母順序排列) Researchers (in alphabetical order according to the surname)
陳慧瑋博士 Dr. CHEN, Huiwei
盧思宇小姐 Ms. LO, Danas Sze Yu
楊子雋先生 Mr. YEUNG, Tsz Chun
竺佳庚先生 Mr. ZHU, Jiageng

設計師 Designer
楊子雋先生 Mr. YEUNG, Tsz Chun

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