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Traditions and Spirituality

Traditions and Spirituality

Inside Hong Kong’s religious buildings and beliefs

Spirituality plays an enormous role in the life of Hong Kong residents: whether it’s in visiting a religious venue, in practicing age-old traditions, or in acting out ancient superstitions. Below is an introduction to understanding the complex stories behind some of the city’s many traditions and spirituality. We also put the spotlight on Wong Tai Sin’s temples and sacred spaces.

A Temple in Hong Kong

If you walk down any street in Hong Kong, it won’t take you long to spot manifestations of the city’s deeply spiritual nature. You’ll find places of worship quietly nestled down busy streets; shop fronts adorned with offerings to the gods to ensure good luck and fortune; and worshippers burning paper offerings and joss sticks on the side of the road. These religious customs and long-held traditions (or you could say, superstitions) permeate the city’s modern facade. At the same time as Hong Kong is underpinned by some of these spiritual traditions, it’s also not defined by one sole religion: this multicultural city is home to Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, Muslims, Catholics and more besides.

Hong Kong’s important relationship with its harbor is still evident today in the sheer number of temples devoted to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea. Fishermen and sailors throughout the centuries have worshipped her for protection, which is why you’ll often find a Tin Hau temple right beside the waterfront. The oldest and largest of these is Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay, Sai Kung, which was built in 1266 and is now a Grade I historical building. The temple’s origin makes for a great story: during the Song Dynasty, two brothers from Fujian were earning a living in Kowloon by shipping salt to the mainland. On one such trip, their boat was hit by strong winds and they were swept overboard. Crying for help from Tin Hau, they beached up at Joss House Bay. Here they built a temple to honor the goddess (although this was then later rebuilt by their descendants). During the Tin Hau Festival, tens of thousands of worshippers flock to the temple to shake their joss sticks here.

Che Kung Temple

The Chinese culture is rooted in superstition and you’ll frequently see these acted out in daily life. For example, during the annual Ching Ming Festival or on the anniversary of a relative’s death, people will burn offerings over a small fire (there’s a big business in paper replicas of objects) to “send” to their loved ones in the afterlife and bestow blessings on the living. Many of these ancient beliefs are tied to Chinese New Year, when locals flock to temples looking for good fortune. In the Sha Tin district, Che Kung Temple is dedicated to a general from the Song Dynasty, and during Chinese New Year, the temple is packed to the rafters with worshippers—including government officials. A windmill is located inside the temple and turning it clockwise signifies good luck in the year ahead. This activity is traditionally carried out on the third day of the Chinese New Year: it is believed that arguments are more susceptible to arise on this day, and so instead of visiting friends and family, people spend the day at the temple.

The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery

The Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple is also popular with worshippers, who come here looking for good fortune and divine guidance. Three religions are housed in the temple: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Its namesake, Wong Tai Sin, was a monk born in the 4th Century. The Po Lin Monastery, on the picturesque Lantau Island, sits beneath the majestic Tian Tan Buddha. The monastery itself has been around for decades, but became widely known after construction of the golden bronze statue was completed in the early 90s. Monks still inhabit the temple today, making it a fascinating place to visit. On Buddha’s Birthday, devotees make the trek up here and perform a purification ritual that involves ladling fragrant water over miniature statues of the deity.

As a multicultural city with a tapestried history, there are numerous places of worship for other religions around Hong Kong. St. Paul’s Church in Central is a prominent Anglican church that was established in 1911. Although it’s a stone’s throw away from the island’s main entertainment district, it’s a serene space where worshippers and visitors alike can enjoy a moment of peace. Not much further away is the Jamia Mosque, which can be reached by a quick journey on the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator. Built in 1849, it was then renovated and expanded in 1915. Built in a traditional Islamic style, the mosque is open to Muslims only, but visitors can enjoy the façade of the building as well as the leafy surrounds.

Get Going

  • Tin Hau Temple at Sai Kung
    Tin Hau Temple at Sai Kung
    The oldest and largest temple dedicated to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea, was built in 1266.
    Address:
    Joss House Bay, Sai Kung, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2385 0759
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Po Lam Station Exit A. Take minibus 16 (Po Lam to Po Toi O), get off at the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club and walk for about 10 minutes down the steps nearby.
  • Che Kung Temple at Sha Tin
    Che Kung Temple at Sha Tin
    To view an enduring example of Chinese folk tradition, pay a visit to Che Kung Temple in Tai Wai, a temple that was built at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), to honor China’s great “General Che” or “Che Kung.” The temple connected different clans and villages, maintaining the communication and stability of the “nine unions” (nine small districts) of Sha Tin. Besides worshipping Che Kung, it was believed that turning the copper windmill would bring good luck!
    Address:
    Che Kung Miu Road, Tai Wai, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2697 2660
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Che Kung Temple Station Exit B, follow the signs and walk for around 10 minutes.
  • Wong Tai Sin Temple
    Wong Tai Sin Temple
    Named after the deity Wong Tai Sin, this Taoist Wong Tai Sin Temple was restored in 1973 and is a popular shrine for local pilgrims. The temple claims to make wishes come true, but failing that, a soothsayer can interpret your fortune with a Chinese practice called kau cim, or fortune sticks. 
    Address:
    2 Chuk Yuen Village, Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon
    Tel:
    +852 2327 8141
    How to Get There:
    MTR Wong Tai Sin Station, Exit B2, walk for about three minutes.
  • The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
    The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
    Located next to the famous Big Buddha, Buddhist monastery Po Lin is one of the landmarks of Hong Kong.
    Address:
    Ngong Ping, Lantau Island
    Tel:
    +852 2985 5248
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    • MTR Tung Chung Station Exit B, then take Ngong Ping Cable Car, which takes around 25 minutes. Then walk for around 10 minutes to the monastery; or,
    • MTR Tung Chung Station Exit B, then take New Lantao Bus 23 from Tung Chung Town Centre, which takes around 45 minutes. Then walk for eight minutes; or,
    • catch ferry from Central Pier 6 to Mui Wo, then take New Lantao Bus 2 to Ngong Ping Village, which takes around 40 minutes.
  • St. Paul’s Church
    St. Paul’s Church
    St. Paul’s Church is a pretty Anglican church built in 1911.
    Address:
    Glenealy, Central, Hong Kong Island
    Tel:
    +852 2521 0348
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Central Station, Exit D1. Cross Queen’s Road Central and walk up Wyndham Street. Continue straight across at the top of the hill on to Glenealy.
  • Jamia Mosque
    Jamia Mosque
    One of the few mosques in Hong Kong, it is built in a traditional Islamic style.
    Address:
    30 Shelley Street, Central, Hong Kong Island
    Tel:
    +852 2523 7743
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    Take the Central to Mid-Levels Escalator to the junction of Shelley Street and Robinson Road.

Traditions and Spirituality 'Musts'

  • Yuen Yuen Institute
    Study the Chinese zodiac
    Yuen Yuen Institute
    Don’t let the misleading name of the Yuen Yuen Institute put you off a visit. Located in Tsuen Wan, the vast green grounds encompass a mix of temples, pavilions and prayer halls dedicated to Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. See the Hall of Rocks Collection, which has rocks arranged in the shape of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals.
    Address:
    Sam Dip Tam, Tsuen Wan, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2492 2220
    How to Get There:
    MTR Tsuen Wan Station Exit B1, walk for five minutes to Shiu Wo Street and take minibus 81 to Yuen Yuen Institute.
  • St. Margaret Church
    Go to church
    St. Margaret Church
    In Happy Valley, a residential district in the middle of Hong Kong Island, stands the magnificent structure that is the Catholic St. Margaret’s Church. Built in the Italian basilica style, the entrance is adorned with huge columns and statues. This grade II historical building is open for worship and is a popular spot for weddings.
    Address:
    2A Broadwood Road, Happy Valley, Hong Kong Island
    Tel:
    +852 2576 2801
    How to Get There:
    MTR Causeway Bay Station, Exit A. Walk along Matheson Street to Leighton Road, cross over and continue along Wong Nai Chung Road. Turn left onto Broadwood Road. It’s about a 10-minute walk.
  • Hung Shing Temple at Kau Sai Chau, Sai Kung
    Escape to an island
    Hung Shing Temple at Kau Sai Chau, Sai Kung
    On the island of Kau Sai Chau, in the blissful Sai Kung, sits Hung Shing Temple. The temple can be traced back to 1889, when it was built to worship Hung Shing, the god of the sea. A declared monument, it was successfully revived in the 2000 and is the winner of a UNESCO restoration award.
    Address:
    Kau Sai Chau, Sai Kung, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2719 6311
    How to Get There:
    Bus 92 or 96R (available on Sundays and public holidays only) from MTR Diamond Hill Station or Minibus 1A from MTR Choi Hung Station Exit C2. Walk along the waterfront to Sai Kung Pier (opposite Tung Kee Seafood Restaurant) and take a privately-owned boat to Kau Sai Chau.

This guide was produced by HK Magazine Media Group from 2014-2015.

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