HONG KONG HAS a fascinating history behind its futuristic cityscape. And much of the history dates back centuries before the British era.
Yuen Long’s Ping Shan is one of the most historically significant places in Hong Kong – and there’s a heritage trail where visitors can marvel in a cluster of well-preserved sites built by the Tang Clan, one of the first families in Hong Kong, who arrived eight centuries ago.
The ancestors of renowned Tang Clan, one of the great five major clans in the New Territories, initially moved to Guangdong from Jiangxi in Northern Song Dynasty as cities in southern China started to become prosperous. Later, the Tang Clan moved to Kam Tin in Hong Kong, and subsequently settled in the Ping Shan district about 800 years ago.
Ping Shan has a wide array of time-honoured Chinese-style ancestral halls, study halls including Kun Ting Study Hall (覲廷書室), temples, villages and even a 600-year-old pagoda built by the Tang clan.
FAMOUS SON OF THE CLAN
Renowned Hong Kong fashion designer William Tang Tat-chi, a member of the clan, grew up in Ping Shan and pursued his fashion studies in London. But he remains dedicated to celebrating the folk culture of his ancestors.
Tang told the media that during his childhood several decades ago, the rural Ping Shan area was a fabulous place where villagers enjoyed living in a tranquil and self-sufficient way.
The fashion designer still remembers the heart-warming days in the village, when he would lay back, read books, and taste the coffee prepared by his grandfather in the study hall. Growing up there was an unforgettable time, he said.
For visitors, historic architecture in Ping Shan can evoke nostalgia and enable them to immerse themselves in the old-time culture.
When visitors meander past the Kun Ting Study Hall – which was built more than 150 years ago, in 1870, they may realize that the building was designed based on the traditional style of Chinese courtyard architecture (四合院).
Declared as a Grade I historical building, the study hall – made of wood, grey bricks and granite columns – was a place for educating young clansmen and for undertaking ancestor worship and traditional rituals.
It is a well-preserved complex, with a large single courtyard in the center and two side rooms. The main hall was the venue for studies and worshipping the ancestors, while the side rooms were less important. The main hall can be further extended and connected to the side rooms with foldable screens. The open central courtyard can let people seek peace and provides access to natural daylight and breezes.
The study hall harks back to traditional Chinese belief that the heaven was like a semi-circular dome covering a square earth (天圓地方). This vernacular architecture is designed to suit its conditions, both environmental and material and is regarded as sustainable.
Expressing a strong sense of Confucian moral virtue, the main hall, named Shun Tak Tong (崇德堂), or hall of moral integrity, also represents the educational values for which ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius stood.
The hall’s architectural components are well-preserved, with carvings of bamboo and orchids, lively decorative plaster mouldings on the roof ridges and vivid traditional paintings. Bamboo is a symbol of virtue and represents moral integrity and modesty.
Until the end of World War II, children in Ping Shan pursued studies in the hall.
GUESTHOUSE WITH BLENDED STYLES
When visitors wander through a narrow corridor from the study hall, they can meander through Ching Shu Hin (清暑軒) – a former guesthouse for scholars, teachers and visitors.
In Ching Shu Hin, which literally means a more leisurely place for visitors to relax from the heat, students, teachers, guests and villagers enjoyed a break.
With its architecture style contrasting with the study hall, Ching Shu Hin accentuates Taoism values that highlight octagon-shaped window frames designed on the basis of the “eight trigrams”. It is the epitome of Taoist beliefs on the pursuit of spiritual order and balance.
Above all, the guesthouse is perfectly blended with Chinese and Western architecture features – as some of Baroque-style and even Indian-style arches were built.
In line with its use as a guesthouse, Ching Shu Hin was richly embellished. It even had kitchens, bathrooms and even a stable to serve guests’ needs.
Young students and guests enjoyed reading and practising calligraphy in a scenic way, thereby immersing themselves in the beauty of nature.
TALISMAN FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The 600-year-old Tsui Sing Lau (聚星樓) Pagoda is definitely a significant landmark in Ping Shan, along with Kun Ting Study Hall and Ching Shu Hin.
As the only ancient pagoda in Hong Kong, the hexagonal-shaped historical monument was built to boost fung shui, ward off evil spirits and bless future generations.
The pagoda was originally seven storeys, but lost the four upper ones which were destroyed by typhoons. Each storey is decorated with auspicious titles as a grand talisman for clansmen.
There are some traditions fading away in Hong Kong. Still, Kun Ting Study Hall, Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda, and various other marvels, have marked the journey of early Hong Kong residents, the Tang Clan, and are well worth visiting today.
Image at the top from Wikimedia Commons