It sounds like a place that is off the beaten track, and it is. The Hong
Kong Museum of Coastal Defense stands overlooking the eastern approach to
Victoria Harbor -- a 20-minute subway ride from central Hong Kong, it
offers up a rarely-glimpsed side of the city that is suffused with
It's understandable that visitors to Hong Kong don't know or even seek its
historical roots, but it's definitely present for those who care to look.
The Museum of Coastal Defense is one of the little-known stories of this
port city, that has seen colonial vicissitudes
occupation, and a
centuries-old insistence on standing slightly apart from
Though largely open-air with several vantage points and displays of
disused weaponry, the museum
also houses permanent
exhibitions about Hong Kong's naval history going back eight centuries.
Enthusiasts of naval jargon and weapons inventory will not be disappointed
by the detailed explanations of the British Empire's strategic decisions
or trade treaties hammered out by the Chinese over the centuries. But
sprawling grounds that have been preserved since World War II enrich the
narrative of Hong Kong's trade and
colonial status, making the museum an enjoyable stop for the majority of
Designers of the museum have made full use of the
natural light in which this
eastern hilltop basks, while also preserving a bunker-like atmosphere
inside the building. A stroll around the ruined battlements, underground
ammo storage spaces, and a path leading right down to the waterfront gives
the place a nostalgic feel, invoking all
the commercial and military activity the city has seen over the years.
The narrative of the exhibition presents many perspectives on the city's
evolution--local, Mainland Chinese, British, Portuguese--but there is a
marked shift in tone when describing the Japanese occupation of 1941,
which caused much social and economic hardship on the island till 1945,
when the British regained control. This change in tone is just as
noteworthy (though more negative) as the statements on the 1997 Handover
to Beijing, which are clearly government-generated.
Along with replica models of heavy artillery, the
exhibition holds documents and artifacts, and the odd
reference to "legendary" Chinese pirates, British "Volunteer" soldiers, and
similar remarkable figures.
The museum offers sweeping alternative views of the harbor, unencumbered
by pollution and billboards, as part of its presentation. There is also a
marketplace and a small temple just down the road that are worth exploring
before taking the scenic bus ride to destinations on the south-eastern tip
of Hong Kong Island.