Ping Shan is the intersection between the modernization needs of a prosperous society and the preservation of its old customs and culture.
Few visitors to Hong Kong in search of local history and culture make it past Hong Kong Island or Kowloon; however, Hong Kong’s New Territories, a region that tangents Mainland China, offers some respite from the pervasive linoleum of high-end malls. Nonetheless, urban life, with its taxis and infinite permutations of Manning’s, Watson’s, and Wellcome’s, has seemingly infiltrated even the more underdeveloped New Territories, leaving little of what once stood.
Before British colonial rule, what is now Hong Kong primarily consisted of sleepy fishing villages. And it was only a hundred or so years ago that the British extended colonial rule to the New Territories in 1898 and began developing the area. I have found it quite rare to find early remnants of not only Hong Kong’s colonial history in plain sight, but also those of the history that predates foreign interference. Thus, I was so happy when I was taken on a tour of the Ping Shan Heritage Trail in Yuen Long, New Territories (a 45 minute ride from Central MTR).
The Ping Shan Heritage Trail provides an exciting opportunity to explore a well-preserved village from the perspective of one of the early clans. The Tang Clan, having been established in the area since the late 13th century, operates the Trail. The Trail, with its iconic colonial police station and other ancient cultural relics, represents the dawn of colonial rule in the area, the local Chinese history that predates colonial rule, and the modern clash between the two. It provides the physical intersection of all these strains of history, and there are accidental traces of postmodern tensions, as you can see the graffiti of the Triad etched on temples and other buildings along the way!
Along the Ping Shan Heritage Trail, I noticed that many of the historical sites were greatly influenced by feng shui, a Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing the environment with the physical products of human existence. While it may seem to be outdated and old-fashioned, feng shui is still incredibly important and influential to villagers in negotiating land leases with the government today. It also was the determining factor in how the Trail was laid out, where each building was constructed on how they related to each other.
I walked through the cold stone of the Tang family’s 19th century temples, where inhabitants worshipped the sea-god Hung Shing, and study halls, where they undertook civil service exams. I beamed at the dragonfish-laden ridges of their seven hundred year-old ancestral hall and whisked myself over the remains of a two hundred year-old village well. The Trail also boasts one of Hong Kong’s three walled villages. Finally, the trail ended at the only ancient pagoda in Hong Kong, the six-hundred-year-old Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda (Pagoda of the Gathering Stars).
I ended my exploration of the trail at the first police station constructed in the New Territories, which was perched on the highest hill after the British took control of the area in 1898 after a bloody skirmish. The choice of hill was symbolic of British overrule, of which villagers are resentful of to this day. The police station was converted into a museum bearing the cultural history of the Tang Clan after a clash with the Hong Kong government over a potential landfill site. This site was where many of the residents’ ancestors were buried, a site praised for its excelled feng shui. In retribution for the destruction of their ancestral gravesite and the resulting damage to their feng shui, the Tangs demanded that the police station, which had been negatively affecting their feng shui for the past one hundred years, present the villagers’ cultures and traditions.
And, thus, that is how the police station stands today; as a marvelous fusion of a brutal colonial past and golden age of the Tang Clan, and the reconciliation between these two historical forces. It exists as a site of compromise, as the intersection between the modernization needs of a prosperous society and the preservation of its old customs and culture. Indeed, I do not doubt that the police station has now reached a state of excellent feng shui.