Handmade Hong Kong: 5 traditional arts and crafts to try and buy

Delve beyond Kowloon’s shopping malls and you’ll find traditional artisans designing authentic crafts that are well worth keeping

3 mins

1. Slippers 

Embroidered silk slippers (Shutterstock)

Embroidered silk slippers (Shutterstock)

Once a status symbol, slippers have been worn in Hong Kong for centuries. Traditionally, women embroidered silk at home with dragons, phoenix and goldfish, or floral patterns such as blossom, which was then shaped into footwear by men. A single pair can take several months to create.

Where to buy slippers in Hong Kong

Browse antique slippers in Cat Street Market near Sheung Wan, or seek out Sindart in Jordan (an area in Kowloon), which opened in 1958. The shop is now owned by the founder’s granddaughter, Miru Wong, who teaches embroidery in weekly two-hour workshops. Sindart1958 is on Facebook

2. Jade

Jade is believed to bring good luck (Shutterstock)

Jade is believed to bring good luck (Shutterstock)

‘Gold has a price, but jade is priceless’, according to a Chinese proverb. Valued by emperors and kept as heirlooms, jade is sourced from the Kunlun Mountains in the north-west of China. The durable gem is believed to bring good luck and prosperity and to ward off ghosts, and it is treasured as a symbol of purity. 

Where to buy jade in Hong Kong

The Jade Market in Jordan sells affordable jade of variable quality, while shops on Hollywood Road sell antiques. Genuine jade is translucent, heavy and cold. Ava Chan runs jade jewellery making workshops. 

3. Birdcages 

Birdcage (Shutterstock)

Birdcage (Shutterstock)

The practice of keeping birds as pets – and taking them for a walk in their cage – dates back to the Qing dynasty, in the mid 1600s, and remained a popular hobby, particularly among Hong Kong’s elderly male community, into the 1990s. However, laws introduced after the 1997 outbreak of bird flu has killed off demand and today making birdcages is a dying art.

Where to buy bird cages in Hong Kong

Chan Lok Choi learnt the trade from his uncle in the 1950s. Watch him shaving bamboo, soaking it in hot water then moulding it in Yuen Po Street Bird Garden by Prince Edward Road.

4. Porcelain 

Traditional porcelain (Shutterstock)

Traditional porcelain (Shutterstock)

After the Portuguese established trade routes in the East in the 1500s, hand-painted Cantonese porcelain became popular with Europeans, which resulted in a blend of Western and Chinese designs. Birds, flowers and butterflies were typically painted and transferred on to white porcelain, which was then baked in a kiln.

Where to buy porcelain in Hong Kong

When Yuet Tung China Works opened in Kowloon Bay in 1928, it was Hong Kong’s first hand-painted porcelain factory. Join a workshop led by the founder’s grandson, Joseph Tso Chi-Chung, or make or paint a teapot at Tung Yao Ceramics in Sheung Wan. 

5. Mahjong tiles

Mahjong tiles (Shutterstock)

Mahjong tiles (Shutterstock)

While the rules of this Chinese game vary, four people usually play mahjong with 136 or 144 tiles, selecting and discarding them until they form four sets and a pair, a little like the Western card game of rummy. Traditionally, bone or ivory tiles were engraved by hand and then painted with red, black, blue or green Chinese characters, numbers and images such as flowers, birds and sticks of bamboo.

Where to buy Mahjong tiles in Hong Kong

Cheung Shun King learnt to carve tiles from his father. Watch him at work at Biu Kee Mahjong (on Facebook) in Jordan – a single set takes a week. You can also learn to play it in a local’s home; book through Humid with a Chance of Fishballs (on Facebook).


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