This past weekend saw the close of this year’s Hung Shing Festival, a yearly tradition which honours the Chinese deity Hung Shing, known as God of the Southern Sea. The festival took place in Ap Lei Chau, home to the city’s oldest Hung Shing temple built 250 years ago in 1773. The former fishing village’s rich maritime heritage includes a past in shipbuilding, fishing, and marine trade. Villagers would pray to Hung Shing to protect against natural disasters and for a bountiful harvest.
Legend has it that Hung Shing was a government official during the Tang Dynasty who was a great supporter of the sciences, in particular astronomy, geography, meteorology, and mathematics. His work (in particular, building an observatory to predict weather changes) benefitted the lives of many civilians under his purview, especially those whose occupations seemed especially at the mercy of mother nature. It’s little wonder that the formerly maritime-dependent Ap Lei Chau is known for its yearly Hung Shing festivities, which this year has spanned over two weeks to mark an exuberant return from its three-year hiatus.
The festival’s traditional elements, such as the Hung Shing Festival Parade, the Blessing of Water Lanterns and the Blessing of Dragon Boats date as far back as the Tang Dynasty. Present-day festivities still see Taoists priests leading the parade for peace and fortune, and dragon dancers prowling city streets. Traditionally used as a vessel for prayers and foster connection with the divine world, water lanterns are now released for luck and to honour the deceased, holding wishes and memories of loved ones instead.
Dragon boats are a common sight in Hong Kong, and are present in more than one festivity around the city (Dragon boat festival, anyone?). The Hung Shing Festival has their own dragon boat race, where boats race to the temple for blessings of safe passage, peace and fortune.
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This year’s festival also included a variety of modern touches in the form of escape room games from LOST, Chinese opera performances, and various interactive displays and public exhibitions. The festival is organized by the Ap Lei Chau Kaifong Tung Hing Association, comprised of stalwart community members committed to preserving Hong Kong’s local customs. As the cultural fabric of Hong Kong continues to evolve, the importance of keeping longstanding traditions alive also continues to grow. And it’s usually pretty fun, too.
This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong