Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Territories Burials

The “indigenous inhabitants”of villages in the New Territories seem to have many privileges not enjoyed by the rest of the citizens of Hong Kong. The most prominent and controversial is the right to build and own “small houses” (丁屋). Essentially, each male descendant of those “indigenous inhabitants” is entitled to build and own one of those three-story small houses. Even for those who have emigrated overseas, or who were born overseas! And these small houses are exempted from paying the “rates”, a form of land tax.

Many people in Hong Kong feel it is blatantly unfair. Why it is that other long term residents in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the new Territories are not entitled to similar privileges? Particularly when the lands in Hong Kong are so extremely valuable, largely due to the restrictive (some say manipulative) policies in Hong Kong.

The other privilege, receiving less attention, is the right to bury their dead all over the hills in the New Territories. There are numerous sumptuous graves, pots of bones placed openly, or half buried haphazardly by the roadside. I was told that the right applied only to those buried before a certain time in the past, with certain restrictions. But even limited burial rights is infinitely more than the rest of Hong Kong residents enjoy. And many of the graves and storage pots were rather suspiciously new-looking.

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