Sitting in the spacious courtyard of an 18th-century ancestral hall belonging to his clan, William Liu defiantly rejects a lucrative birthright that his special status as one of Hong Kong’s male indigenous villagers affords him.
Liu hails from the New Territories, which were leased by Britain from China in 1898. Under a colonial-era policy that remains in place, any male who can trace his lineage back to that period has the right to build a three-story house on his land without paying a land fee.
In a territory with the world’s least affordable property market, that exclusively male right is a major windfall, but it is being challenged in the courts as discriminatory to women and unfair to millions of Hong Kongers unable to get on the property ladder.
Liu is a villager who agrees with the case against the building rights.
“It’s an unfair policy and I will not use it,” the 22-year-old said.
Liu, a democracy activist, is opposed both to the discriminatory nature of the policy and the way the territory’s connected housing developers have still been able to use it to build properties.
“The small house policy has turned into something that is just being abused by a small handful of people working with developers to make money,” he said.
Liber Research Community, a land concern group, estimates that at least one out of four indigenous houses in the New Territories have been built illegally, with developers making secret deals with villagers to use their land rights.
Authorities largely turn a blind eye to the practice.
The so-called “ding rights” — named after the Cantonese word for male offspring — were enacted in 1972 by the British as an interim measure to improve living standards for farmers. It continued after the 1997 handover to China.
With the crammed territory facing an acute housing shortage, the New Territories’ vast land banks are being eyed for their development potential and calls are mounting for the government to overhaul the policy.
However, ding rights have been vociferously defended by the powerful Heung Yee Kuk, an advisory body that has dominated rural affairs for decades and delivers reliably pro-Beijing votes in the complex system that elects Hong Kong’s chief executive.
In a bid to alleviate its acute housing shortage, Hong Kong’s government has proposed spending about US$63 billion on building artificial islands that could accommodate a new city around a fifth the size of Manhattan.
The proposal has sparked protests over both the enormous cost and the potential environmental damage.
Chan Kim-ching (陳劍青), the founder of the Liber research group, said the government should overhaul how land is allocated in the New Territories and make it more accessible to everyone.
“That could improve the environment, cancel out some of the unequal situation and solve our housing demand at the same time,” he said.
A government spokesperson and Heung Yee Kuk chair Kenneth Lau both declined to comment on the policy, citing the ongoing legal challenge.
Indigenous villagers, who along with ding rights also enjoy other special benefits including some exclusive burial rights, are often seen as an unfairly privileged group, but they argue the policy does not mean they are guaranteed a house immediately, even if they own their land.
Indigenous local Selena Yung says she experienced discrimination as a woman in the villages, but she supports the house policy, noting it benefited her two sons — whose applications were approved after waiting for more than a decade.
“It’s already so hard for them to have their applications approved, never mind girls. They should solve this problem first,” she said.
Stanley Ho, an indigenous activist who grew up in a tiny village of just a few dozen people in a country park, watched as fields around his village were replaced by houses, and as decades-old trees were cut down to make way for illegal roads in recent years to facilitate construction.
He called on the government to work with the Heung Yee Kuk, environmental groups and rural representatives to decide on a way to end the “unfair policy” while still improving the living environment for villagers.
“Our generation has to speak out, and we have to control our own space,” Ho said. “If we don’t manage it then the developers will take over.”
POINT-BLANK RANGE: Reporters and camera people from several outlets say police officers in Minneapolis had fired tear gas and rubber bullets directly at them Multiple journalists on the ground in Minnesota said they were teargassed and subject to other attacks by police on Saturday evening, a day after the widely condemned arrest of a CNN reporter live on air. Los Angeles Times journalist Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who was reporting outside the Fifth Precinct in Minneapolis, said she was with a group of about a dozen journalists when the Minnesota State Patrol “fired tear gas canisters on us at point blank range.” “I was saying: ‘Where do we go?’ They did not tell us where to go. They didn’t direct us. They just fired on us,” she said
For nearly a decade, the UN Security Council has been frequently paralyzed by Russia’s obstinacy over the Syrian crisis. Today, however, it is the US-China rivalry that has infected a growing array of issues, according to officials and diplomats. As recently as 2017, an understanding between Washington and Beijing allowed the UN on three occasions — involving separate sets of economic sanctions — to project international unity in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat. Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a ferocious competition erupt between the UN’s two main contributors, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May
INDIA Pride to be preserved The nation would not let its “pride be hurt” in its latest border flare-ups with China, but is determined to settle the dispute through talks, Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh said in a television interview late on Saturday. “Situations arise with China. It has happened before,” Singh said, adding that the government was striving to make sure “tension does not escalate.” The government has turned down US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate, he said. IRAN Speaker says talks futile Newly elected Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf yesterday said that any negotiations with the US would be “futile.” The nation’s
HISTORIC FLIGHT: The astronauts named their capsule ‘Endeavour,’ after the space shuttle on which they both flew, while Elon Musk said he was overcome with emotion Two veteran NASA astronauts headed for the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday after Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Saturday became the first commercial company to launch a rocket carrying humans into orbit, ushering in a new era in space travel. SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off flawlessly in a cloud of bright orange flames and smoke from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a 19-hour voyage to the space station. “Let’s light this candle,” Hurley, the mission commander, told SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, before liftoff at 3:22pm from NASA’s