Ten alumni and friends joined this guided walk led by Ms. Pauline Poon, an expert on Hong Kong vernacular architecture, who has not one, not two but three Master’s degrees in history, conservation and development!
The trail is about 1 km. long and is packed with interesting things to see. The story of Ping Shan is largely the story of the Tang Clan, one of the ‘Five Great Clans’ of the New Territories. A branch of this clan is said to have first settled in the New Territories in the twelfth century and has lived there continuously since, growing in wealth and power – reflected in the built environment that they created for themselves. The trail consists of a number of buildings including two ancestral halls, a study hall, a temple and a pagoda (the only one extant in Hong Kong).
Pauline showed us how to ‘read’ vernacular buildings and recognize the clues they provide to understanding the culture and priorities of those who built them. Pauline taught us the significance of the common decorative symbols; not just the dragon and phoenix but also the bat, fruits, clouds and so on. The crab motif is frequently used to decorate study halls because the word for shell sounds like the informal name for the Imperial Civil Service examination and so the crab has come to symbolize success in exams.
Bristol University alumni and friends standing in front of Hong Kong’s only pagoda. Photo by Sarah Chapman
Our tour finished at the Ping Shan Tang Clan Gallery and Heritage Trail Visitors Centre. It is housed in the old Ping Shan Police Station, built in 1899 and contains many items related to both everyday and ritual life and video recordings of older members of the clan talking about their lives and what it means to be a Tang.
This was a wonderful outing and our special thanks go to Pauline Poon who was endlessly patient with our questions and a treasure store of knowledge. Those of us who took the tour were particularly impressed by the care and detail that had gone into the notes that she had prepared for each one of us – complete with coloured pictures! Thank you, Pauline!
More details on Ping Shan can be found at this link http://www.amo.gov.hk/en/ping_shan.php