Chinese Customary Law

The Development of Hong Kong’s Land System and Chinese Customary Law

Friday, 22 January 2016
12:30 pm – 2:00 pm

Warren Chan Moot Court, CUHK Graduate Law Centre
2/F, Bank of America Tower, Central, Hong Kong (map)


Professor Cheung Sui-wai
Associate Professor
Department of History
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Judith Sihombing
Faculty of Law
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Conducted in English

The Development of Hong Kong’s Land System and Chinese Customary Law

This talk focued on the development of land administration of colonial Hong Kong from 1841 to 1900.  It showed how on both Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula the colonial government’s land administration policies upset a lineage-based land-holding system, in which the tongs owned much of the land and leased it to tenants, and replaced it with a system in which the Crown was the landlord, while the former tenants effectively became the long-term landowners. However, at the turn of the century there was a reversal of British colonial land policy in the New Territories, a vast region north of Kowloon leased from the Qing government for 99 years. Probably because it was a leased district, the colonial government decided to make as few changes as possible in the social organization of the people living there. In the same vein, in 1910 the colonial government implemented the “New Territories Ordinance” which allowed Chinese lineages in the New Territories to register their collectively owned ancestral land. In other words, the colonial government preserved Chinese lineages in the New Territories, in a reversal of the “one plot one owner” policy.

ShekO Land

This part of the seminar deals with a particular issue of Hong Kong’s land law by exploring the following questions: Was ShekO terra nillius in 1941? From the foundation of the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, who was the ‘paramount owner’ of ShekO land? Can it be said, that ShekO land is really freehold land?

Cheung, Sui-wai, BA (CUHK), M.St., D.Phil. (Oxon), is Associate Professor at the Department of History – The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also Director of the Research Centre for Ming-Qing Studies, Research Institute for the Humanities – The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Judith Sihombing (LL.B Melb. and LL.M Malaya) is Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria and of the High Court of Australia. After long years of teaching at University of Hong Kong (HKU) and University of Malaya, she now teaches part-time in the Faculties of Law at CUHK and HKU. Prior to teaching, she spent a short time in practice in Melbourne; and in Malaya she was a consultant to the Legal Aid Bureau in its early days. Her main areas of publications are property, commercial, corporate and financial laws, with an interest in customary laws from Sumatera, Malaysia and the Hong Kong New Territories.