Perhaps there’s no point to heritage preservation in Hong Kong. Those involved should move on to less futile and heart-breaking pursuits. Some weeks ago, residents on Bonham Road, in Mid-Levels, woke up to find several heritage banyan trees had disappeared while they were sleeping. Like a thief in the night, a government agency had cut down the beautiful trees, leaving their roots tenaciously clinging to a wall as they had done so for decades – except now without treetops or trunks.

The ancient Chinese knew the importance of trees. In his treatise on governing, philosopher Xunzi (313-238BC) wrote, “When the plants and trees are flowering and laden with fruit, axes must not be taken into the hills and forests to end their lives or halt their growths.” Centuries earlier, Guan Zhong (725-645BC), the able premier of the state of Qi, knew the effects nature had on the health of the kingdom. Among the prohibitions he listed for good governance during the spring were the burning of swamps and the felling of big trees.

Although Xunzi’s and Guan’s proscriptions may not be applicable to downtown Hong Kong, having trees in the city not only eases pollution and heat, it also makes urban living much more pleasant.