Victoria Road Detention Centre

(“Shelter: The Squatters and the Cottages,” n.d.)

After the political and social disruptions of World War II, Hong Kong’s population more than tripled to reach approximately 2.2 million by 1950 (Census and Statistics Department [C&SD], 1969, p.14). The immense increase was predominantly driven by large numbers of refugees who fled from the Chinese Civil war and the imminent expropriation of the communist revolution. This population influx led to the formation of squatter homes, such on Mt. Davis, where by March 1950 around 10,000 nationalists settled (“Refuge: The Matsheds 1949 – 1950,” n.d.). These settlements also included the grounds of the former Jubilee Battery. Originally an artillery practice ground, the battery had been built for naval defence in 1936, as the likelihood of Japanese aggression became increasingly likely with the end of the Washington Naval Treaty.

Around ten years later, in 1961, the place’s function would again be entangled with the political events on the Mainland. Repurposed as a detention centre by the Special Branch of the HK Police Force, it should curb the colony’s increasing involvement with China’s ideological conflict. During the anti-colonialist and pro-communist riots in 1967 that had grown out of a labour dispute, 52 key figures were detained for around one year in the Victoria Road Detention Centre without facing trial (Cheung, 2009, p.84). This practice was made possible under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which subjected the rule of law to governmental judgment.

However, the site fell into disuse after the tensions eased. Only briefly was it used as a film set for Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution until 2018, when the University of Chicago opened their new academic campus for executive education on the premise. Designed by Hongkongese-Canadian architect Bing Thom it resembles a treehouse, superimposed on the old military structures. Despite that the remnants have been ‘polished’ for the new global clientele, a critical discourse with past memories is nonetheless evident in the continued onsite exhibitions and events.  

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