It’s all about daily life
For some reasons, we have to temporarily stay in a traditional village in the New Territory. This village belongs to one of the Great Five Clans of Hong Kong. Out of curiosity (or being adventurous?), we performed a treasure hunt to explore the characteristics of this Punti (original local) traditional village.
For centuries, people from northern part of China migrated with their clans and settled in Hong Kong. Some of them came for better job opportunities, some to flee the danger of war and seek refuge in the territory, some came for retirement and exploring better place for their descendants to develop. The place we live are settled the descendants of a well-known scholar-general in the last years of the Southern Song Dynasty. This clan is comparatively well off, which made most of the features of a traditional Punti village available.
Fung Shui (literally Wind and Water)
“Fung Shui” was the primary concern of the early settlers. The basic setting of “Fung Shui” was closing to a mountain (backing by something powerful) and surrounded by water source. If possible, the area in front of the village would be deserted to make a “bright hall” for “accumulating wealth”. Some would also plant Fung Shui woodland to enhance the Fung Shui setting. If we take out the words “Fung Shui”, this is a good landscaping in terms of environmental management. Mountains and water source are natural barrier and resources. The bright hall provides space for better ventilation. Fung Shui woodland is now regarded as an important and unique landscape with wide range of plant species and remarkable ecological value. However, in the past decades, our precious Fung Shui woodlands are in danger of being evacuated day by day under the name of “development”.
The village is “backing” by mountains
A stream running through the village, while the anti-flood walls are so unimpressive…..
The bright hall…well…car park now
Ancestral Hall and Study Hall
As one of the Great Clans, the village has two “basic infrastructures”: Ancestral Hall and Study Hall. Ancestral Hall was a significant set-up in the Chinese society. It represents the family history, development, rules and regulations. The tablets placed in the Ancestral Hall shown the bloodline of the clan. In the old days, the Ancestral Hall was a place for performing ritual ceremony, celebrating the newly wedded people, blessing to the new born baby boys (!), organizing banquets / funerals for the elders of the Clan, meeting of leaders, and enforcing family law. To-day, the Ancestral Hall seldom supports administrative functions. It is now a place for ritual ceremony and celebration event. More importantly, a place for “basin food” during celebration…(mouthwatering….)
Now, take a look at the couplet plagues hanging at the entrance of the Hall. They are no ordinary plagues. In traditional Chinese buildings, the couplet plagues at the entrance were used to summarize the history of the family/clan. The key word shown on the couplet plagues of this Ancestral Hall is “Righteousness”, which was their ancestor, the scholar-general upholding with his life.
Education is the other key issue to the Great Clans, even in the old days. The villages of the Great Clans built and ran their own Study Halls, i.e. schools to bring up the young ones. They regarded education as the entry requirement for the government official employment. The belief of “knowledge reshapes destiny” has been prevailing in the Chinese society for more than a thousand years.
The dilapidated Study Hall with the fine lintel.
Many people considered Hong Kong traditional villages as walled villages. In fact, not all villages are “walled”. The history of walled villages can be dated back to the 11th and 12th century. However, the number of walled villages surged from 16th century as people built thick walls to defend against the pirates. Some walled villages encompassed the entire village with one enclosure. Some have several walled units within one village where one or several big families inhabited in each unit.
“Water” and “Earth”
“Water” and “Earth” are two features to decode the scale and social status of a village. “Water” means the water well and “Earth” means the shrine of the earth god.
After settling, the first thing to do was to build at least one water well for water provision to the entire village. The structure, size and number of water wells gave clues on the population and economic status of the respective villages. The structure and design of the earth god’s shrine also carried similar implication. It was almost a must for building an earth god’s shrine at the entrance of each village to protect the inhabitants. Should the village inhabited people with higher social status, the shrine of the village could be bigger and more dedicated.
The earth god’s shrine is quite established.
We also found a “ Shek Kam Dong”(“the stone dares to defend”) which is used to ward off evil spirits.
We have also visited a village nearby, where we found the footprints of the evangelists a hundred years ago. The tiny church was built in the 50s. It is a replica of the original one which had been demolished due to severe termite infestation.
I conducted some research on the history of the church and understood that the village was once a Christian village. This is quite unique in Hong Kong. However, I talked to an indigenous lady and learnt that along with many urban people moving in, the ratio of non-Christian residents is increasing. The characteristic of the village seemed to fade away.
The principle of Ho Ho Go is to give our guests the experience of daily life in Hong Kong without disturbing the residents. We therefore have no intention to develop any itinerary for the village we temporary reside. However, if you are interested in the Great Five Clans of Hong Kong and the walled villages, the “Fairy Tales Lane” will be your choice. Where you will be brought to the oldest walled village and to visit an ancestral hall where a real princess rested. This should be a great trip!