The gods of fightin' n writin'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 July, 2006, 12:00am

Head up to Hollywood Road above Central district and the street is full of antique shops - with some antique pieces more valuable than others, from the mega-expensive vases of the Ming and Qing dynasties down to the tacky knick-knacks such as watches with former chairman Mao Zedong's hand moving to show the seconds ticking by.

At the start of Hollywood Road, on the corner with Ladder Street, is the Man Mo Temple, one of Hong Kong's estimated 600 temples, and certainly one of the more interesting.

Named after two gods - the god of literature and the god of war - it was built in 1847 and ever since has been a popular temple for prayer, particularly at festival time.

Who are these two gods?

The two gods that the temple has been named after are Kwan Yu, the god of war (the Mo part of the temple name uses the word for 'art of war' - Mo, in Cantonese). Man Cheung is the god of literature. Those looking for academic help will pray to Man. Kwan Yu, meanwhile, was a general who lived more than 2,000 years ago and these days has become the patron or god of policemen but also triad members.

Who goes to pray there?

All sorts of people, but it's also always been a traditional place for students and their mothers. It's normal for any student to be nervous during the exam period, but during the Qing dynasty, which ended in 1911, there was a very tough examination that entitled young men who passed the exam to enter the prestigious civil service. This imperial exam could change lives so there was a lot of hope both by the students and their families that their sons could pass. So before the exam students and their mothers would often come to the temple to pray for assistance from Man.

Who runs the temple?

The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals - these days a massive organisation that as well as the hospitals, schools, clinics and other aid projects it has, also manages 11 temples.

Once you enter the temple, you can see a huge gold sign with four characters on it. It was given by a Qing emperor to the directors of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals to thank them for raising money and sending it to the mainland to help flood victims in 1878. The amount raised was $660,000 - a phenomenal amount for that time. The four characters on the sign mean: god's majesty protects all.

What else can I see?

Quite a lot, so give yourself some time to have a good look around some of the other plaques. There's also a huge bell that dates back to 1847 - the same year that the temple was built.

Is there anything unique about this temple?

Yes, it's rare to have a temple that is dedicated to these two gods together. In mainland China, you often see a temple to one of the two gods, but it is unusual to have both together - which makes this temple special.

Hanging from the temple roofs are huge coils of incense, which are an integral part of most temples. But if you find the smoke a bit much, or you are asthmatic, then pop into the temple for five minutes at a time and then head out of the main entrance to get some air.

What else can you do around there?

If you head off Hollywood Road and down to Cat Street (there's a little alleyway adjacent to the children's playground which is opposite Man Mo Temple), the street is full of stalls of necklaces, paintings, statuettes, little jade buddhas - all sorts and some of the prices are very reasonable. There are not too many cafes around, so as with any activities outside during the summer, make sure you bring along a bottle of water, to stop dehydration.