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How to Know Hong Kong and Macau

Roberto Ignacio Diaz, Dominic Cheung, Ana Paulina Lee, Authors

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The Yau Ma Tei temple is only one example of the religious hybridity of Hong Kong—spurred on by the original settlement and unique evolution of the city. Through its development from a Tin Hau temple, to a Taoist temple, to a syncretic site, even standing in as a Buddhist temple of sorts, it displays how religion has become hybrid in Hong Kong. It is not representative of a devout religious following, but of the construction of a conflated “Chinese” religion, a cultural tradition that attracts people because of their heritage and cultural ties to these places rather than any devout religious practice.

At the same time, we do not see Christianity incorporated the same way that Buddhism and Taoism have been synchronized. There are no Christian idols in Chinese temples, and there has been no apparent Christian influence over these places themselves. That distance only emphasizes that these temples and religion itself are primarily of a local nature. The localized worship of Tin Hau has developed into a localized connections to the religious traditions of history, and the traditions have become a cultural phenomenon. One does not have to be a devout practitioner to visit these sites. With the introduction of the British and Christianity, the East and the West have been constructed as separate entities, with the East synchronized and the West excluded.

Despite Christianity’s exclusion from the hybrid nature of Chinese religion (which is built upon a strong cultural identity/inheritance), it is present in infrastructure, as are Buddhism and Taoism. Its presence, not only in churches, but in the education and health systems has provided channels for conversion. This is most potent in the Christian educational system because education was associated with class and elitism and religion could be constructed as a social symbol, traces of which can still be seen through a common preference for English secondary educations over Chinese ones. Christianity grew in popularity because of its social benefits, not its religious benefits. Thus, it underlines how much religion in Hong Kong is tied to social services and urban purpose.

Christianity has had to adapt to the needs of Hong Kong and the local Chinese population in order to have any sort of holding; to appeal to them, it had to offer benefits (education, not salvation), while Buddhism and Taoism did not have to adapt to the population but had to adapt to urban change, and in the process it became a syncretic and cultural phenomenon

Sites like Tin Hau temples are removed from their original purpose and repurposed as sites of tradition and culture while Christianity succeeds in its connection to education and higher social status. Both reflect the urban nature of the city and the trend of, not devout religious practice, but of Hong Kong’s place as a business hub and metropolis. Religion too has adapted to this urbanization and modernity.
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