The Yuk Hui Temple in Wan Chai
The Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) under the Development Bureau (DEVB) is an office dedicated to heritage conservation and education. It strives to protect and conserve the archaeological and built heritage of Hong Kong, and to enhance the public’s awareness, understanding and appreciation of our cultural legacy. I have written several blog posts to share the work of the AMO and introduce various historic buildings in the territory. Earlier, the Yuk Hui Temple in Wan Chai has been declared as a monument. This time, I have specially invited a colleague from the AMO to introduce to us the history and architectural features of the old temple.
Icon of the identity of Wan Chai community
The Yuk Hui Temple, also known as Pak Tai Temple, is located at the corner of Lung On Street and Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai. It serves as an important historic landmark of the early development of Wan Chai and an icon of the local community’s identity. The temple was built by the residents of Wan Chai. The side building to the left of the temple was originally a communal hall (now the Hall of Lung Mo) while the other to its right used to be a school (now the Hall of Three Pristine Ones). This gives us the idea of the original purpose of the temple and the social functions it was intended to fulfil when established by local residents. That is to say, the temple served not only as a shrine for the worship of the Taoist deity Pak Tai, but also as a venue for settling public affairs and providing education for the neighbourhood. In October last year, the Government declared the Yuk Hui Temple, the rock carving at Cape Collinson in Eastern District and Hau Mei Fung Ancestral Hall in Sheung Shui as monuments.
Largest temple to worship Pak Tai with high heritage value
After numerous repairs throughout the years, the temple in general still retains much of its authentic layout and main elements. The Curator (Historical Buildings) of the AMO, Mr NG Chi-wo, says that the main building of the temple has a long history of more than 150 years. Its construction began in the first year of the Tongzhi reign (1862) of the Qing dynasty and completed the following year. A bronze statue of Pak Tai, which bears an inscription on its robe hem marking the 31st year of the Wanli reign (1603) of the Ming dynasty, is enshrined in the temple’s incense pavilion and has more than 400 years of history. Therefore, the Yuk Hui Temple carries high heritage significance and is the largest temple to worship Pak Tai in Hong Kong.
A Qing vernacular two-hall-three-bay building with a courtyard
The main building of the temple is a Qing vernacular two-hall-three-bay building with a courtyard. What is a “hall”? According to Mr NG Chi-wo, a pitched roofed building can be understood as a hall. As soon as one enters the main entrance, one sets foot in the entrance hall. After passing some stairs leading to the temple’s interior, one will find the rear hall where shrines are located. Between the two halls there probably used to be an open courtyard, which is now covered by the incense pavilion. In local traditional Chinese buildings, the rear hall is the most important space where the statues of the main deity Pak Tai and most deities are enshrined.
The characters “玉虛宮” written with fist wrapped in cloth
The Yuk Hui Temple has retained many decorative features of heritage significance. Among others, the exquisite historic Shiwan ceramic figurines, made in the 33rd year of the Guangxu reign (1907) of the Qing dynasty, can be found on the main ridge and gable corner walls of the main building’s entrance hall. On the upper tier of the main ridge are a set of double dragons with a pearl finial in between, flanked by a pair of dragon fish. The lower tier mainly consists of figurines portraying Chinese folk stories. Moreover, there are timber and stone carvings on the main entrance, and it is noteworthy that the three characters “玉虛宮” inscribed on the granite lintel of the main entrance were the fist calligraphy of Zhang Yutang, the then Commodore of the Dapeng Brigade stationed at Kowloon Walled City.
Wan Chai known as “Ha Wan” in the past
Mr NG Chi-wo says that the two characters "下環 (Ha Wan)”, which was the name of Wan Chai in the past, along with the characters “同治二年 (the second year of the Tongzhi reign of the Qing Dynasty)”, were inscribed on the ridge purlin of the temple’s entrance hall. As to the inscriptions on objects given as offerings by worshippers, such as a cast iron bell inscribed with“風調雨順”and“國泰民安”(to pray for good weather and peace) and two historic timber plaques inscribed with“德煥辰居”and“總握天樞” to honour Pak Tai, along with the inscriptions of “同治二年”, can all date back to the completion year of the temple, i.e., the second year of the Tongzhi reign (1863).
Inclusive Chinese folk religions
The Hall of Lung Mo, currently a side building of the Yuk Hui Temple, was formerly a communal hall, which has a little-known story with the neighbouring social service agency, St. James’ Settlement. In 1949, there was much to be done in Hong Kong to rebuild from ruins after the Second World War. Given the large number of refugees, the demand for various social services was keen. The St. James’ Settlement intended to launch children services in Wan Chai. Due to a lack of space, the St. James’ Settlement asked the Yuk Hui Temple to lend the then communal hall for the Boys’ and Girls’ Club providing services for children in the community. According to Mr NG Chi-wo, this shows that the Chinese folk religions are very inclusive. A traditional Chinese temple dedicated to Pak Tai can accommodate another religion by allowing a church to offer services in its place. This is certainly an interesting feature of the Chinese folk religions in Hong Kong.
To tie in with the response level under the "Preparedness and Response Plan for Novel Infectious Disease of Public Health Significance" being raised to Emergency Response Level and avoid people from gathering, the AMO has closed its historic buildings and monuments until further notice. Given the impact of novel coronavirus infection, I understand that there are grave concerns across the community. I hope we all will take every preventive measure to ensure the well-being of ourselves and our families. Let us brace ourselves to tide over the problem together!
2 February, 2020