For a heaving metropolis of finance and modernity, Hong Kong is pretty superstitious. It’s not just the Feng Shui of the skyscrapers; it’s in the temples and shrines visited by everyday patrons. While the region is most famous for the Big Buddha on Lantau Island and its monasteries, Hong Kongese with specific wishes in mind often visit Taoist temples. In Taoism mortals can achieve ‘perfection’ through learning and assimilating themselves to the Tao, or way, to become immortal. These immortals are the deities of Taoism, and it is common for people to turn to them for help during times of crisis. If you find yourself in Hong Kong, there are four especially important deities you’ll want to remember.
Wong Tai Sin
The Wong Tai Sin Temple was built by two Guangdong Taoist priests who came to Hong Kong in the early 20th century. Located in Kowloon, it is known for granting wishes and is popular for both locals and Chinese tourists. Wong Tai Sin was a 4th-century Taoist shepherd from Zhejiang province who achieved immortality through studying the Tao. He became well-known in the Guangdong region after appearing during a Fuji (spirit writing) ceremony in the 19th century and performed many miracles protecting villages from plagues.
The temple is busy year-round with the scent of incense burning and the sound of kau chim. If you have a wish to make, you’ll need to get nine incense sticks and follow the incense trail. First, light them up at the corner and bow three times before the main hall stating yourname, your Chinese Zodiac, and your wish. Leave three incense sticks, then offer another three at the Three Saints Hall and then at the Yue Heung Shrine. If the wish comes true, you must return to thank Wong Tai Sin with fruits and gifts.
Che Kung was a general who protected the last emperor of the South Song Dynasty as the forces fled south from the Mongol forces. Known for his bravery, he passed away in Hong Kong from disease, and several temples were built here to commemorate and worship him.
The largest of the Che Kung Temples in Shatin is busiest during Chinese New Year. It is believed that by spinning the bronze pinwheels in the temple, it brings luck in the coming year. There are also many plastic pinwheels for sale to bring good health, peace for the family, or work. Many visitors buy one to perpetuate the luck by letting them spin in the wind for the rest of the lunar month. The custom of visiting during this time stems from the third day of the Lunar New Year being unsuitable to visit friends and families. So instead, people come to visit Che Kung, whose birthday falls on the second day of the Chinese New Year.
Arguably the most popular deity in Hong Kong, Kwan Tai (or Guan Yu) is a martial god and the god of mercy; travelers will likely see him wherever they go in China. His original name was Kwai Yu, Tai being his title. Kwan Yu was a general during the War of Three Kingdoms in the third century under Liu Bei. Also known as “The Man of the Magnificent Beard,” he is considered a protector and deliverer of justice as well as the embodiment of loyalty and wisdom.
There are numerous Kwan Tai Temples across Hong Kong, but he can also be found as a secondary deity in other temples such as Man Mo Temple. Interestingly, his shrines can also be found in every police station in Hong Kong as he represents righteousness. In the past, police officers would offer incense to the shrine before going off on a job.
Given that Hong Kong is by the sea, it seems only natural that its people seek protection from a sea goddess. Tin Hau, also known as Mazu, was a girl who lived in 10th-century Fujian province. It was said that she could predict the weather, aiding and saving fishermen in her village, becoming an important sea deity after her passing.
In Hong Kong, a temple is built wherever a statue or spirit tablet related to Tin Hau was found by the shore. There are 120 Tin Hau Temples in Hong Kong, however, a lot of them are now inland due to land reclamation, a testimony to the urbanization of Hong Kong.
Many fishermen visit and pray to Tin Hau for protection and safe return from their fishing expeditions. With the fishing industry becoming mostly obsolete in Hong Kong, the majority of the festivities center around Tin Hau’s birthday with a few days of parades and lion dances.