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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”.


The Funding Scheme for Thematic Research on Built Heritage Conservation has chosen the P-L-P approach as the research theme. According to the Report on the Policy Review on Conservation of Built Heritage by the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) in 2014, the P-L-P approach is defined as a way that “seeks to extend the scope of conservation beyond an individual building (‘point’) to a ‘line’ (such as a particular street) and even the whole ‘plane’ (such as a particular district)”. Commonly, the concept concerns “not only the conservation of individual buildings but also their wider urban or rural setting” (ibid).


One priority area of a P-L-P approach for built heritage conservation is related to clusters of historic industrial buildings and structures in Hong Kong such as mining sites. The abandoned MOS Iron Mine, that predated its surrounding country park and the MOS New Town, is a case in point. The MOS Iron Mine comprises historic buildings, structures, mining infrastructures and settlement patterns. Indeed, the built and physical environments embed and reflect the histories and developments of local communities, serving as an interesting case to adopt the P-L-P approach in investigating, valuating and practising industrial heritage conservation.


In 2005, UNESCO adopted the “Vienna Memorandum on World Heritage and Contemporary Architecture—Managing the Historic Urban Landscape”, specifying that historic urban landscape refers to “ensembles of any group of buildings, structures and open spaces, in their natural and ecological context, including archaeological and paleontological sites, constituting human settlements in an urban environment over a relevant period of time, the cohesion and value of which are recognized from the archaeological, architectural, prehistoric, historic, scientific, aesthetic, socio-cultural or ecological point of view. This landscape has shaped modern society and has great value for our understanding of how we live today”. The Memorandum highlights the importance of “a deep understanding of the history, culture and architecture of place, as opposed to object buildings only” and underlines the importance of “a timely recognition and formulation of opportunities and risks” in the planning process “in order to guarantee a well-balanced development and design process” that results in “high-quality design and execution, sensitive to the cultural-historic context”.


However, in Hong Kong, the targets of heritage conservation are still mainly individual buildings, although the idea of extending the scope of conservation has been discussed in a few consultation documents. The publication of an official document that reviews Hong Kong’s built heritage conservation policy in 2004, explores the difficulties of adopting a P-L-P approach under the existing legal framework. In the 2014 Policy Review on Conservation of Built Heritage, the Antiquity Advisory Board recommended the government “to explore the feasibility of conserving and protecting selected building cluster(s) of unique heritage value under the ‘point-line-plane’ approach”. In the same year, the Development Bureau commissioned the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong to conduct a consultancy study on the heritage conservation regimes in other jurisdictions, with an aim to learn from international practices. In addition, a few sporadic attempts have been made by local master students to adopt an area-based conservation approach in studying restoration of the Western Street in Sai Ying Pun and examining the potential application of the approach in Hong Kong’s town planning system. This current study takes up the challenge as presented in The Dublin Principles, to understand the different dimensions of a heritage site to interpret its values and significance before identifying the relevant P-L-P in the cultural landscape and formulating related conservation strategy and actions

Industrial heritage conservation: a multi-dimensional approach


In the field of industrial heritage conservation, a multi-dimensional approach to conserve industrial heritage sites that cherishes their physical, socio-economic and environmental aspects beyond tangible structures has taken shape in recent decades, mainly through the efforts of TICCIH. The Nizhny Tagil Charter for the Industrial Heritage adopted in 2003 and The Dublin Principles, both contribute to our understanding of the historical, technological and socio-economic dimensions of industrial heritage sites and structures, as well as the significance of their conservation.


Benefiting from the empirical evidence gathered from international practices since the publication of The Nizhny Tagil Charter in 2003, The Dublin Principles substantiate its advocacy statements and discuss how the concepts can be operationalised. While the articles in The Nizhny Tagil Charter are grouped into distinctive issues, the organisation of articles in The Dublin Principles follows the logic of common operational sequence, i.e. to document and understand, to protect and conserve, to manage and maintain and finally to present and communicate. In particular, the definition of industrial heritage has been broadened from The Nizhny Tagil Charter to The Dublin Principles. These two documents, especially The Dublin Principles, have become the most influential references for scholars studying industrial heritage conservation and inspired this research team to undertake a multi-dimensional P-L-P approach to examine the MOS industrial heritage site.


Previous researches done by TICCIH largely focused on the western (mainly European) experiences. Its guide to industrial heritage conservation published in 2012 and updated in 2013, put together a critical set of methods for illuminating industrial sites, structures, landscapes and processes. However, it uses only a few Asian cases to demonstrate the principles highlighted in the document, namely Jyy-Liau-Uo Paper Village in Taiwan, coal mining ruins in Gunkanjima Island and Kanamori Warehouse in Hokkaido. In fact, it was not until 2012 13 when TICCIH held its Congress in an Asian city since its establishment in 1978. The TICCIH Congress 2012 in Taiwan was concluded with a one-page Taipei Declaration for Asian Industrial Heritage, which recognises the uniqueness of industrial development in Asia, when compared with its counterparts in the West. This declaration marks an increasing research interest in the conservation of industrial heritage in many parts of Asia. Emerging research works on the subject have already been seen in Asian countries such as Japan and China.


In Japan, there has been a boom of industrial heritage conservation since the inscription of Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. In China, although studies on mining heritage started only in the late 1980s, relevant research works have increased significantly after the Ministry of Land and Resources released a document that promotes the idea of establishing National Mine Park in 2004. Scholars have identified mining as the most important industrial heritage in China and have been exploring appropriate management strategies as different ministries are involved in its conservation. Others have tried to develop a classification system for grouping these heritage sites. There are also critical reflections on the current conservation policies and practices of the industrial heritage in China with reference to the above-mentioned international documents promulgated by TICCIH. Case studies of industrial heritage conservation in various old industrial cities and provinces, such as Shanghai, Beijing and Henan Province, provide further insights into the value of their industrial heritage sites within the local planning system as well as possible conservation solutions.


Nevertheless, there have been limited comprehensively-reported cases of conserving mining sites using The Dublin Principles. Among the 70 plus cases in Industrial Heritage Retooled: The TICCIH Guide to Industrial Heritage Conservation, less than ten cases are related to mining sites, such as Anaconda copper mine and Quincy Mining Company National Historic Landmark of the United States, Swell copper mining plant of Chile, Sunny Corner silver mine and Mount Alexander gold mine of Australia, Nord-Pas-de-Calais mining basin of France and Wieliczka salt mine of Poland. The World Heritage listings related to mining sites also support this observation. Up till the end of 2018, out of the 1,092 currently listed World Heritage properties, only 25 having Outstanding Universal Value are associated with mining. The nominations documents for these mining sites have largely adopted a thematic approach since the mid-1990s in justifying the Outstanding Universal Value. The thematic approach encompasses “a wider range of cultural values and evidence”, moving “beyond a focus on a specific site or technology, to consider mining landscapes and the social, cultural and technological systems or processes associated with mining or which mining activities initiated and/or sustained”. Research interests on industrial heritage and its conservation are less evident in Hong Kong. Although the need is recognised for a deeper appreciation of its industrial history and identity, industrial heritage conservation in Hong Kong is still very 14 much an under-researched area. Therefore, much more research work needs to be done, especially from a multi-dimensional P-L-P approach. Based on the above discussion, the following session outlines the study framework adopted in this research.

“The Dublin Principles”


review of existing literature shows that there are only a few conventions, charters and principles specifically focusing on the conservation of industrial heritage. The Ministerial Council on Mineral and Petroleum Resources (MCMPR) of Australia has published a booklet titled Strategic Framework for Managing Abandoned Mines in the Minerals Industry (MCMPR 2010), focusing on site management and economic revitalisation. The one-page Taipei Declaration for Asian Industrial Heritage adopted by TICCIH in 2012 provides little practical advice. Hence, The Dublin Principles, while general and generic, constitute state of the art principles for industrial heritage conservation. The Dublin Principles cover documentation and understanding of the values of the site through multi-dimensional investigations, protection, conservation and management, as well as communicating such values to the general public to raise awareness, training and research. 

Highlights of The Dublin Principles:

I - Documenting and understanding industrial heritage structures, sites, areas and landscapes and their values

II - Ensuring effective protection and conservation of the industrial heritage structures, sites, areas and landscapes

III - Conserving and maintaining the industrial heritage structures, sites, areas and landscapes

IV - Presenting and communicating the heritage dimensions and values of industrial structures, sites, areas and landscapes to raise public and corporate awareness and support training and research

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 of MOSPLRA)
香港信義會恩青營 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 of ELCHK-GYC)
  陳子恒先生 (館長) and Mr. CHAN, Ric Tsz Hang (Curator, ELCHK-GYC)
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. MORLEY, Ian
Prof. YELLEN, Jeremy

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, Arthur Tsz Chun
竺佳庚先生 Mr. ZHU, Jiageng

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

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