Exclusive: Digging workers uncover mystery tunnel on university campus

2021.05.07

Workers have discovered an underground tunnel while digging at a site of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, triggering a government investigation.

The manager of the construction site alerted the police on Tuesday morning after workers excavating the area to make way for new student dormitories came across an entrance around 1 meter by 1.5 meters, which led into what looked like an ancient tunnel.

Only one person could crawl through the entrance at a time, and the sides looked very smooth, as if the tunnel had been carved out carefully, photos obtained by Apple Daily show. It is not known how far or deep the tunnel goes.

Police have cordoned off the site and indicated that there is no immediate structural danger. The Antiquities and Monuments Department has taken over the case.

Hong Kong historian and professor Siu Kwok-kin said that according to the photos, the tunnel looked like a complete structure. No pillars were holding up the roof, while the ground was lined with tiles, which could mean that the tunnel had not been hastily constructed, he said.

The area had at least two tunnels and might have a whole network yet to be unearthed. Siu said the tunnels could have been used to connect graveyards, or for military usage or mining purposes. Without knowing how long the newly discovered tunnel was, its purpose would be hard to ascertain, he said.

Construction work ceased on the morning of May 6, sources said, while the department confirmed that police notified it the same morning. The department has sent over officers to investigate the tunnel and to document the discovery, and is now in discussions with the university and construction companies on how to proceed. As the purpose of the tunnel has not been confirmed yet, it is unknown whether a heritage listing will be in order.

Records show that Sai Kung, where the university is located, was an important military base during World War II and Hong Kong’s fight against Japanese invaders. A group was established on Feb. 3, 1943, to spy on the Japanese and find out information to help with their resistance effort. Japanese troops took over Sai Kung town center as a military headquarters, and after Japan lost the war, local fighters forced the army to surrender there.

In the past half a year, a number of heritage and historical sites have been uncovered across Hong Kong, including the architecturally unique Roman-style reservoir aqueducts on Bishop Hill in Sham Shui Po, which experts think were built in 1904. In April, conservationists found a stone inscription with the words “The Kowloon Customs,” which was believed to date back to 1887, during the Qing dynasty.

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