Time Travel • Hong Kong

Recently, local tourism has flourished in Hong Kong. In addition to discovering obscure attractions across Hong Kong, how about travelling through time with artists and "travel bloggers" from the last century? Now sit back, relax and join us in re-visiting the Pearl of the Orient that charmed artists and poets!

By Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong Island (Dated 1958) by Milton Peter BarrettArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

HONG KONG ISLAND

Most of the tourist attractions introduced in travel guides from the last century are on Hong Kong Island. Here you can see the hustle and bustle of the city’s central business district, beautiful natural landscape and authentic fishing villages without having to spend much time on transportation.

MUST SEE! THE PEAK

"When the sun rises, sea breeze drives away mist exhaled by the rocks. Buildings come on top of the ships over water encircled by mountains." -Zuo Bingnong “Climbing Victoria Peak“ (1906)

"We say mountains are green. But most of them are in a dirty and murky kind of yellow or green. The greenness of Hong Kong’s mountains is pleasant though, resembling a beauty covered by a pale green veil standing in water." -Zheng Zhenduo “When the Ship Passed Hong Kong” (1927)

Also called Victoria Peak, Shing Kei Shan, Heung Lo Shan, etc., the iconic spot has become a popular tourist attraction since 1880. 

Pearl of the Orient (Dated 1953) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

 The Peak, together with the Peak tram and Lugard Road, has been the chief highlight in travel books since then, attracting a huge number of visitors, among which are poets and artists who immortalize its beauty in art.

Pearl of the Orient | Yip Yan-chuen (1903–1969)

This work presents a panoramic view of the Peak in both Chinese and Western techniques.

Lugard Road and the Peak tram were painted in strong contrast. Landmarks along the Central coast including the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank Building, Queen’s Building, St George’s Building, and Queen’s Pier, etc. were accurately drawn.

In this work, a horizon is included and chiaroscuro and linear perspective are employed to convey a 3-dimensional reality; at the same time Yip painted mountains, rocks, and forest with hemp-fibre strokes and ink dots in the traditional style of Dong Yuan and Juran, and tinted them with haematite and malachite. 

Hong Kong Island, Milton Peter Barrett, Dated 1958, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Pearl of the Orient, Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), Dated 1953, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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“Marvelous is the Peak. The trip-up is easy enough to make one forget the hardships coming down. At sunset, fluffy catkins fly and fall on visitors. How can you compare the compliments from those who never climbed to the top with the descriptions from those who came down?” -Liao Entao (1866-1954) "The Peak" 

“The sea is still like a painting: a dozen steamships, tiny like toys, are arranged neatly into two to three in a row. Ferries, motorboats and sampans cluster along the coast or are sprinkled all over the canvas like ink dots. I know they are moving, but in my eyes, they are still and fixed.” -Ba Jin "Hong Kong" (1933)

Below Victoria Peak (Republican period (1912–1949)) by Wong Po–yeh (Huang Bore, 1901–1968)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Below Victoria Peak | Wong Po-yeh (1901–1968)

In Wong Po-yeh’s Below Victoria Peak, viewers do not see Lugard Road, Peak tram, or any European-style architecture as advertised in tourism literature. In this painting, the Peak, shrouded by mist, is reduced to motley shades of grey. Houses cluster under the hill represented by crisscrossing lines, while on the sea boats huddle with closely knitted masts.

The artist explored the medium of ink painting and his work reflects the shared experience of living in Hong Kong between the artist and viewers.

Travelling Victoria Peak

“The thunder-wagon shuttles Among clouds and blooming azalea. Rising against gleaming water and mountain, Islands from afar become cups floating on the heavenly beauty that defies melancholy of the frustrated scholar. ” -Liu Yazi (1887-1958) "Written on the Trip to the Peak on 22nd" (1935)

Eight Views of Hong Kong Leaf 2: Peak Tram, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Eight Views of Hong Kong Leaf 3: Lugard Road, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Lugard Road (Landscape Sketches, no. 239 ), Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), Dated 1950, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Going up the Peak is an enjoyable artistic experience that drew the attention of Yip Yan-chuen. Yip’s landscape paintings transformed graphic elements of traditional Chinese ink paintings to present urban landscape with a modern point of view. The artist’s choice of modern colonial constructions as motifs in the three paintings above presents how natural landscape is altered by human activities, with a purpose of constructing a cultural landscape connected to Hong Kong history.

Victoria Peak (Landscape Sketches, no. 229 ), Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), Dated 1950, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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View of Cheung Chau from The Peak (Landscape Sketches, no. 227), Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), Dated 1950, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Keung Fa Kan (Landscape Sketches, no. 235 ), Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), Dated 1950, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Keung Fa Kan (Landscape Sketches, no. 234 ), Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), Dated 1950, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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From the lonesome lady in the pavilion and distant buildings on the top of Keung Fa Kan, to the tranquil view of Cheung Chau and jolly travellers stepping across the stream, Yip presents the diversified interactions among natural landscape, architecture and human activities on the Peak and areas nearby.

View of Kowloon from the Peak (Dated 1958) by Milton Peter BarrettArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

KOWLOON

The selling point of Kowloon in travel books back then was historical sightseeing. The main attractions Sung Wong Toi, Hau Wong Temple and Kowloon Walled City are all closely related to the history of imperial China. Besides heritage sites, Lion Rock is also regarded as one of the most significant natural landscapes in Hong Kong. Come enjoy culture and nature in Kowloon!

THE BECKONING OF HISTORY IN SUNG WONG TOI

Sung Wong Toi, literally the Terrace of the Song Emperor, has been sanctified because the last two Song dynasty emperors stayed here when fleeing from Mongol capitals. Symbolizing Hong Kong’s orthodox relationship with dynasties of ancient China, it had been admired and commemorated by writers and artists from the 19th to 20th century. 

Paintings of Sung Wong Toi often feature a large irregular boulder with a stone railing, which was built with the donation from a Chinese tycoon after scholars had successfully persuaded the government not to develop over this historical site

Yet, the area was still destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. In the 1950s, it was further levelled to make way for the expansion of the Kai Tak Airport. A block was cut out from the boulder and was relocated to a new Sung Wong Toi Park. Since then, we can only find its original form in old paintings and photos. If you visit Sung Wong Toi today, you can only see a rectangular block.

“Like the grand waterfall in the Mountain of Wild Goose Pond, The solemn terrace was once the abode of dragons who Drifted in the preordained catastrophe in bingwu and dingwei years. Who can resonate with them across the width of history?” -Wu Daorong "Sung Wong Toi" (1916)

Sung Wong Toi (Dated 1928) by Wu Meihe (?–1943)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Sung Wong Toi | Wu Meihe (?–1943)

Wu Meihe painted the ancient heritage site in the form of a pastoral scene. The artist transformed his trip into an imaginary expedition, with all trees and grass rendered in traditional methods.

It leads the viewer on a journey from Ma Tau Chung village down south, passing a bridge then the tomb of a princess, then all the way to the village where emperors Zhao Shi and Zhao Bing temporarily stayed, where the viewer can let his or her gaze linger.

As the viewer follows the mountain trail, he or she meets the gateway that leads to a path further up the hill that runs all the way to the top of the boulder.

“With existence, destruction is destined, says the Buddhists. The kingly ghosts are nowhere to be found even Part of the boulder survived vicissitudes and the calamity caused by the Japanese. When visitors of the terrace look back, will they still ask about the emperors? ” -Li Jingkang "Visiting Sung Wong Toi after the War " (1947)

Sung Wong Toi, Wong Po–yeh (Huang Bore, 1901–1968), Dated 1957, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Eight Views of Hong Kong Leaf 4: Sung Wong Toi, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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The two works above were painted long after Wu’s work. Despite being created before and after the giant rock was destroyed respectively, both depict the old Sung Wong Toi with only the boulder standing against a background of the sea and without the “paifang” and the village of the two emperors. Both artists were highly skilled in traditional ink painting and dedicated to developing a new language of ink and brush.

The Mountain in a Golden Oldie — LION ROCK

“Together, we who work hard, will write a timeless story of our city.” -James Wong Jum-sum “Below the Lion Rock” (1970)

“If you do not find the influence in the view the first you look [at Lion Rock], try looking at a Chinese painting—then go and look again.” -William Smyly “Looking Down from the Lion and Looking Up” (1956)

"I describe the lion as old because its back is crooked and weary. It has good posture though, sitting and staring silently towards the south-west through sunny and rainy days – only that if it rains, the lion looks somewhat expectant. It looks huge with those small hills underneath. Not to mention that it is on the edge of the urban area and that there’s another lion on top of it. Old it is, but it is a lion after all. That is enough to uphold its heroic might in people’s minds. " -Bai Shao “Lion Rock” (1954)

Quoted publicly by government officials, the classic 70s Canton pop song “Below the Lion Rock” has a profound symbolic significance to the collective mentality of Hong Kong people. Apart from once being the home to the poorest and witnessing the socio-economic advancement of the city, the mountain has also become a popular hiking destination since the 30s; while in the 60s, it became popular with Hong Kong artists.

Lion Rock, Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), ca. 1950s–1960s, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Squatters, Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), ca. 1950s–1960s, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Staff Quarters on Lung Cheung Road, Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), ca. 1950s–1960s, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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View of the Idiot Pagoda from Tze Wan Shan, Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969), ca. 1950s–1960s, From the collection of: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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As a keen hiker, Yip’s views of the mountain correspond to hiking trails, as if the artist was turning his excursions and day-to-day observations into a concerto of geometric colour blocks. In Squatters, the Lion Rock stands tall in the background, while wooden huts, yards, and factories huddle under the valley, staging people walking their dogs, raising children, and chatting with their neighbours in a monotonous small world. In Staff Quarters on Lung Cheung Road, Yip abandoned linear perspective and put together the silhouette of Lion Rock, buildings, and people into a pleasant landscape. The Idiot Pagoda stands next to the peak of Lion Rock against the fading red of the dusk. The striking dynamism of the image evokes the naive vitality of the pagoda builders from the 50s who called themselves “idiots.”

Farmland on New Territories (Dated 1954) by Thomas W. BarwickArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

THE NEW TERRITORIES

The New Territories have been characterized by both Chinese and English guidebooks as a rural area where most of the scenic mountains and sites in Hong Kong are located. Over years of urban development, the New Territories still offer much cultural and natural interest for the visitor, from quaint neighborhoods to historic landmarks to stunning countryside.

Tung Po Tor Tse (Landscape Sketches, no. 221) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

TUNG PO TOR TEMPLE

Established in 1933, it was a popular Buddhist temple and attracted different kinds of people such as politicians, businessmen, scholars and artists. A public memorial for Cai Yuanpei was also held in the Tung Po Tor Tse.

Tsuen Wan Village (Landscape Sketches, no. 217) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Nearby, there is a pond called Sam Dip Tam (literal meaning: pond with three sections) and an old village called Lo Wai Village. Acclaimed for its clear water and beauty in the past, Sam Dip Tam used to be a popular swimming and diving place.

Sam Dip Tam, Tsuen Wan (Landscape Sketches, no. 218) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Though it is no longer suitable for water sports, the middle section of Sam Dip Tam is still well-known for sightseeing.

THE SENSE OF HISTORY AND MODERNIZATION OF TSUEN WAN

Tso Kung Tam (Landscape Sketches, no. 222) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

According to historical records, Tsuen Wan is another location the last two child emperors Zhao Shi and Zhao Bing of the Southern Song dynasty passed by when fleeing south in the late 13th century. Tso Kung accidentally drowned in a pond when escorting the emperors. The pond was named after Tso Kung. Yip Yan-chuen depicted this historic landmark with traditional brushstrokes, making it look quaint in the painting.

Memento of an Outing to Tsuen Wan (Dated 1966) by Lui Shou–kwan (Lü Shoukun, 1919–1975)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Lui Shoukwan, on the other hand, drew the other sides of Tsuen Wan. His painting shows the urbanization of Tsuen Wan with modern tall buildings adjunct to a calm bay, cottages and trees.

View of Cheung Chau from The Peak (Landscape Sketches, no. 227) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

OUTLYING ISLANDS

A large number of islands such as Lantau Island, Cheung Chau, Peng Chau and Pok Liu Island (Lamma Island) were grouped under the New Territories in the old guidebooks. These islands are surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and are perfect for both serene and adventurous activities. Some of the islands have significant historic landmarks, but Hong Kong artists have been very keen on their natural beauty.

Album of Hong Kong Sketches Leaf 2: Ngong PingArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

LANTAU ISLAND

In Ngong Ping, Wong painted the famous plateau located on the Lantau Peak (Fung Wong Shan) on Lantau Island. The painting depicts a view of Lantau Peak from Ngong Ping, with dwellings and pagodas that suggests the Po Lin Monastery delineated in abbreviated brushstrokes. 

Scenery of Lantau Island (Dated 1984–85) by Pang Chap–ming (Peng Ximing, 1908–2002)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

The Lantau Peak is coloured with dark indigo and rendered in elongated raindrop strokes. White clouds hover over the mountaintop and the sky is washed in light blue.

When Pang visited Lantau and Kei Kung Shan, he observed that the textures of rocks and vegetation of these two hills recall the hemp-fiber strokes in Dong Yuan’s Summer Mountains and Residents on the Outskirts of the Capital.

The artist made good use of both realist and symbolic brushwork with expert control of tonal gradations. Hemp-fiber strokes are used to represent sceneries of Lantau as if its mountains and foliage were like the classical landscape along the Yangtze River. The emphasis of this work is not realistic representation, but is rather a dialogue with old masters through landscape, and to re-interpret the tradition of Dong Yuan and Juran through actual sceneries.

"Located on the mountainside, it is 2,000 feet tall and surrounded by hills, resembling a highland. Therefore, it is called 'Ngong Ping'. There are a number of Buddhist temples, stone drums, lotus terrace, Nei Lak Shan, Muk Yue Shan, among others. With Buddhist music, tintinnabulation and a sea of clouds and mist, Ngong Ping is a magnificent place and one of the best scenic views in the New Territories. " -Huang Peijia “Scenic Views of Hong Kong plus Scenic Highlights of the New Territories” (1938)

Cheung Chau (Landscape Sketches, no. 226) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

CHEUNG CHAU

Yip Yan-chuen depicts Cheung Chau from different angles. Cheung Chau features the port, which is busy with the comings and goings of the fishing boats. 

Cheung Chau Island Beach (Landscape Sketches, no. 224) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Cheung Chau Island Beach brings us the scenery of Hong Kong Island from the viewpoint at Tung Wan Beach. A couple stroll on the beach, enjoying an idyllic escape from the hustle and bustle of city-life.

View of the Pacific Ocean from Cheung Chau (Landscape Sketches, no. 225) (Dated 1950) by Yip Yan–chuen (Ye Yinquan, 1903–1969)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

As Cheung Chau is an island 10 kilometers southwest of Hong Kong Island, we can also see numerous sailing boats in Yip’s painting View of the Pacific Ocean from Cheung Chau and encounter the bustling side of the city.

Album of Hong Kong Sketches Leaf 9: Pok Liu IslandArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

LAMMA ISLAND

Pok Liu Island, now called Lamma Island, is rich in green hills and beautiful bays. Wong Poyeh wrote “There is a certain village in Pok Liu Island that is conducive to fishing and farming, like 'Peach Blossom Spring' "on the ninth leaf of Album of Hong Kong Sketches to express his love for Pok Liu.

Shek Pai Wan (Dated unknown) by Wong Po–yeh (Huang Bore, 1901–1968)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Wong Poyeh  also sketched in Shek Pai Wan, which is a bay on Lamma Island. His painting Shek Pai Wan features a row of rocks with sailing boats in the secluded bay.

Credits: Story

* The content is developed based on the exhibition catalogue Hong Kong Impressions. Texts are extracted and modified from Prof. Pedith Chan’s essay “Hong Kong Impressions: Modern Tourism and the Visual Representations of the Hong Kong Landscape”, her entries “Pearl of the Orient” and “Scenery of Lantau Island”, and her sectional texts on “Hong Kong”, “Kowloon” and “The New Territories”. Texts from Dr. Vivian Ting Wing Yan’s essay “Victoria Peak: Seeing and Imagination” and her entries on two Sung Wong Toi paintings, as well as those on “Eight Views of Hong Kong”, “Lion Rock”, “View of the Idiot Pagoda from Tsz Wan Shan”, “Squatters” and “Staff Quarters on Lung Cheung Road” are also incorporated in this guide.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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