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2000 Outstanding Project

Hung Shing Old Temple

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Project Title: Hung Shing Old Temple

Date of Completion: February 2000

Location: Ruwanvel Kau Sai Chau, Sai Kung, New Territories, HK SAR

Cost: Approximately US$ 300,000 (HK$ 2,300,000)

Client: Hung Shing Temple Restoration Committee

Heritage Architect: Dr. Trevor J Holmes

Contractor: Ding Hsung Construction Company


Project Synopsis

Thought to date from 1889, the Hung Shing Temple on Kau Sai Island is a grade III listed heritage building dedicated to Hung Shing, the god of the sea. A typical rural temple, it consists of a main hall with altars, in between two smaller halls. Constructed in grey bricks with a timber roof frame, the temple features intricately crafted eave boards and friezes and decorative plaster work.

Records indicate that the temple has been renovated several times, in 1949, in the 1970s and most recently, in 1988.  Although structurally sound and managed well by the villagers, the roof was in a state of decay due to termite infestation and the temple’s integrity was hidden behind the many inappropriate additions and repairs conducted in previous renovations.  The original brick façade had been covered in white shanghai plaster and the granite stone supporting the brickwork had been painted green. In addition, modern glazed tiles had been used for the roof and mosaic flooring had been applied to the front granite-paved terrace. On the interior, the walls had been covered in pink glazed tiles and the floor given a modern terrazzo finish.

Coordinated by Dr Trevor Holmes and the Hong Kong’s Antiquities and Monuments Office, the restoration of the Hung Shing Temple began in August 1999. Financed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the objective was to restore the temple’s original appearance and to aid in the preservation of the culture and way of life of the fishing community of Kau Sai Island.

In accordance with temple traditions, all major works and the opening ceremony were allocated auspicious dates, decided upon by the village geomancer. Works were completed within six months, in February 2000.

Highlights of Conservation Approach

In order to restore the building’s original appearance, one of the major tasks undertaken was the removal of the Shanghai plaster and the rebuilding of the facades with new brickwork. The new bricks were matched with original ones and laid tooth-in at the corners.  Because traditional bricklaying methods had died out, bricklayers were trained and they constructed sample panels before actual rebuilding began.

On the interior, the terrazzo flooring was removed and replaced with traditional Cantonese tiles with a damp-proof membrane base. Geomantic advice was given on the tiling pattern with the main hall tiles set in a diamond pattern in contrast to the square pattern with borders in other areas of the temple. The walls were restored to a traditional grey painted plaster with white brick lining and the timber doors were repaired where necessary.

In regards to the decorative details, which were an integral part of the temple, the objective was not to recreate them but to clean and conserve the originals. All the decorations were restored with careful repair to broken and weathered parts. Samples of existing paint pigments were studied and various techniques were investigated before any decisions were made to repaint or repair the decorations.

Skilled mainland Chinese artists were employed to repair the decayed plaster decorations on the front frieze and ridge. Generally, the existing motifs remained although slight adaptations were made to create livelier decorations. 

Eave boards over the front entrance were repainted and glided, while the famous Shekwan pottery panels on the sides of the lintel were cleaned.   Specialists worked to conserve internal artifacts, such as Paola Dindo and Associates who restored relics such as the four guardian figurines, the altar, and the caimen. Missing pieces of the artifacts were replaced, cracks filled and the recent modern paint painstakingly removed to restore the original colours.

The termite-ridden roof-timber was replaced with Chinese fir beams which had been treated with pesticides to prevent further termite infestation and traditional bamboo nails were used to secure the framing.  

Conservation and the Community

Throughout the project, the villagers participated actively, with some inspecting the temple each day after the workers had left. Elders attended the weekly site meetings and all villagers were encouraged to voice their comments on the progress of restoration project. 

Upon its completion, an elaborate opening ceremony was held with lavish celebrations including a lion dance, puppet show and a traditional meal for about 4000 people.