Choi Yuen Village was a small village situated on the flat land at Kam Tin, Yuen Long in the New Territories of Hong Kong SAR. Its name was bestowed after the government had initiated the land resumption in 2008. "Resumption" means reassuming possession of lands.
Choi Yuen Village comprised scattered village houses and farms and had no clearly defined boundary. In 2009, it was nearly 27 hectares in size and home to 500 residential villagers. Although it took the form of a village community, it had no formal name before the villagers discovered the land resumption order and grouped together to create the Anti-XRL Movement in 2008. Before this, the villagers commonly called the village ‘Vegetable Station’ due to its proximity to the Vegetable Station minibus stop. Before the 1950s, Choi Yuen Village was a piece of undeveloped land with a few village huts in the rural area of Kam Tin. In the early 1950s, new migrants from mainland China and local people from other areas of Hong Kong started moving into the village for various reasons. Until the early 1960s, the village area was largely rural land undergoing gradual development. Apart from vegetable farming, many villagers engaged in animal husbandry, including pigs, cows, chickens, and ducks. Agricultural activities reached their peak between the late 1960s and 1970s, when a typical villager household could earn over HKD$10,000 per year from animal husbandry alone. They treated agriculture as their major business because they enjoyed the natural farming life and treasured the farmland they had built. After almost 20 years, they had established a strong sense of belonging and treated the village as their homeland. Some villagers had decided to spend their lives there and used all of their savings to purchase small pieces of land. By the 1970s, Choi Yuen Village had already developed into a community that combined family-based households that mutually supported one another. Everyone had hope for the future. Agriculture in Choi Yuen Village continued to grow until the 1980s, when the government implemented new agricultural regulations that badly affected the village and made it impossible for its agricultural products to compete with vegetables imported from the mainland. Some villagers gave up farming and moved out of the village. Some remained but took up part-time jobs in the nearby towns. A small number of villagers continued to farm full time, the majority of whom were first-generation villagers. By the 2000s, most of the villagers had already semi-retired with only a small proportion still engaging in farming. As of 2009, about 500 villagers from 150 households were still living in Choi Yuen Village. Almost none were categorised as indigenous inhabitants under the law of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong XRL was first recommended in May 2000 under Railway Development Strategy 2000. On 20 October 2009, the Chief Executive-in-Council approved the implementation of the Hong Kong section of the XRL and the government’s recommendation to seek funding approval from the Financial Committee so that construction work could start before the end of 2009 for commissioning in 2015. The government believed that the Hong Kong section of the XRL would enable Hong Kong to expand its market into mainland China and attract local talent by reinforcing its status as the mainland’s transportation, financial and commercial hub. Nevertheless, some Legislative Council members questioned the significant increase in the project cost estimates. To minimise the effects on the environment and community, the 26-kilometre Hong Kong section of the XRL was projected to run underground and terminate at the New Guangzhou passenger terminus at Shibi in Guangzhou, one of the four major national railway passenger hubs on the mainland, significantly shortening the journey time. Given the 30-kilometre length of rail tunnel between the West Kowloon Terminus and Futian Station in Shenzhen, it was considered necessary to construct an emergency rescue station (ERS) in the midway of the alignment to ensure passenger safety and enable rapid rescue operations in case of emergency. To decrease the scale of the land resumption and minimise the number of affected residents, the MTRCL recommended putting the ERS and stabling sidings together. The low-lying flat land of Choi Yuen Village was ultimately chosen for the construction site, as it was situated in the middle of the entire XRL alignment. To commission the XRL in 2015, Choi Yuen Village had to be cleared for the construction work by late 2010. Despite strong opposition from the villagers and public, the administration advised that Choi Yuen Village was the best option out of all of the locations studied and that a minimum number of households would be affected. The government handled the Choi Yuen Village land resumption matter authoritatively during its early stages. On 11 November 2008, before the government had announced the construction of the XRL in its gazette, officers of the Lands Department entered a number of households to draw marks without any explanation. The villagers had received no prior notification of the government’s intention to resume the land and the government had given the public an unusually short period of only two months (i.e., before 29 January 2009) to raise objections to the XRL project. These authoritarian moves incited the anger of the villagers and triggered the Anti-XRL Movement. In mid-December 2008, they established a self-help group known as the ‘Choi Yuen Village Concern Group’ (菜園村關注組). Chaired by non-indigenous resident KO Chun-heung. On 22 December 2008, the Choi Yuen Village Concern Group organised its very first protest, at which 80 villagers mounted an ordinary protest near Kam Sheung Road West Rail Station. This first protest was held not to object to either the XRL project or the government, but to ask the government to reconsider the shared corridor option and implement the XRL project without affecting the villagers’ livelihoods. With the slogan of‘No Moving, No Demolition’ (不遷不拆), the villagers had a very simple motivation: to protect Choi Yuen Village, their community and their lifestyle. Although the members of the Choi Yuen Village Concern Group understood that raising public awareness could help amplify their demands and put pressure on the government, they lacked the experience and techniques necessary to mobilise their efforts. The villagers’ desperate situation gradually drew the attention of social activists, environmentalists including experienced social activists CHU Hoi-dick, YIP Po-lam and WONG Ho-yin and university student CHAN Ping-fung, as well as InMedia. Almost none of the activists had any political affiliation. Most of the activists had decent occupations as interpreters, writers, social workers and university students. Their major motivation was to protect the livelihoods of the villagers and communicate their injustices. Experienced activists introduced a large variety of creative and peaceful ideas for setting directions, formulating strategies, designing propaganda and obtaining intellectual and information technology support. They played a critical role in helping the villagers advance their grievances through multiple channels, including the Internet via the InMedia website, publishing articles via traditional mass media such as newspapers and organizing tours and events at the village. For instance, a page dedicated to Choi Yuen Village was set up on the InMedia website on 8 February 2009 to centralise all of the information and news related to the Anti-XRL Movement. They focused on promoting the simple farming and community life of Choi Yuen Village to visitors from urban areas, worked alongside the villager protestors and were willing to communicate and cooperate with the police for the betterment of the movement. Their attitudes were peaceful and non-violent. Instead of promoting village protection, they focused on inciting people to rethink their mainstream values from an intellectual perspective. Their promotional materials included webpages, booklets and posters, all of which provided colourful and detailed information and logical arguments to support their appeal to protect the village. For instance, the activists published The XRL Express (廣深港高鐵特刊), which contained over 10 pages of detailed information about the history and lifestyle of the villagers, the background of the XRL project, its negative effects on the village and the villagers’ counterproposals. The Choi Yuen Village Tour attracted many young and well-educated protestors to join the Anti-XRL Movement. By 29 June 2009, the villagers had successfully obtained 13,800 letters from the public objecting to the XRL project. Environmental groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (HK), Green Sense and Greeners Action made a joint declaration asking the government to re-examine the XRL project. In September 2009, a large number of protestors who had little or no connection to Choi Yuen Village joined in. After they joined the movement, they began questioning and reconsidering the economy-oriented development of Hong Kong. Between September and late November 2009, they formed diverse organisations and groups and advanced their ideologies and demands through various peaceful protests and events. With the rapid construction of new meanings and sentiments, more and more protestors were attracted to join the movement. On 1 October 2009, villagers and local musicians put on a concert to promote the Anti-XRL Movement and the Choi Yuen Village lifestyle. On 3 October 2009, students of the CUHK held an event to ‘discuss the XRL in the city’ (『城』中熱話廣深港同樂日) at Causeway Bay to raise public awareness of the XRL project. They attempted to combat the low level of public awareness of the XRL project revealed by a survey conducted by the CUHK in May 2009. The event adopted a neutral stance and mentioned both the pros and cons of the XRL project. Beginning in November 2009, a series of protests including ascetic-style walk (苦行) and physical confrontation were staged outside the Legco building, some of which included more than 1,000 protestors. Faced with these protests with physical confrontation, the police shifted from a facilitative approach to an enforcement approach, weakening the trust between the two parties. When the Legco approved funding for the XRL project on 16 January 2010, a massive physical confrontation broke out between the police and protestors outside the Legco building. The Anti-XRL Movement lost public support when the mass media released pictures of the physical confrontations. Senior government officials adopted a soft-and-hard approach towards the residents of Choi Yuen Village and effectively isolated the non-villager protestors from the villagers. Because Legco approved funding for the XRL project, Choi Yuen Village could not change its fate of demolition. On 21 February 2010, the residents of Choi Yuen Village submitted a proposal to construct Choi Yuen New Village. The land resumption has not only affected the Choi Yuen Village community, but also damaged the harmony within the village families. Faced with the choice between moving into high-rise buildings and moving to Choi Yuen New Village, family members encountered distrust and inconsistency and some families were broken as a result. With the assistance of the professionals and academics, only 47 households have built a new community at Choi Yuen New Village in the form of cooperative farming by setting up a public farming sector in the village. After about two years of effort with almost no income, their new farmlands in Choi Yuen New Village began to produce quality vegetables and a sales network with nearby restaurants and residential areas was established. What began as a show of solidarity with farmers facing eviction in Choi Yuen Tsuen has blossomed into a viable farm collective for a group of activists committed to promoting sustainable living. However, people are still facing new problems from the weak provision of infrastructures in the Choi Yuen New Village.