The Story of High Island - Activating Local Records

The Story of High Island - Activating Local RecordsHong Kong Maritime Museum

Thanks to the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust for their steadfast support, it has been possible to conduct extensive research on the history and culture of High Island (Leung Shuen Wan), Sai Kung which has been duly recorded.

High Island by Edward StokesHong Kong Maritime Museum

The comprehensive records on the local area cover its natural landscape, places of historical interest, human activities, religious customs, education, economy and recent development.  Through this exhibition on High Island, the audience will have the opportunity to better undersatnd the history of the area and Hong Kong.

Map of zones of Control along the Guangdong coast by Tam Kwong-limHong Kong Maritime Museum

From "Dragon Boat Bay" to "High Island"

High Island (Leung Shuen Wan), also known as "Dragon Boat Bay" (Lung Shuen On or Lung Shuen Wan), has been located in the stategic stronghold of Hong Kong since ancient times.  As this particular island is higher than the surrounding island, its English name is "High Island".  Since the Jiajing period of the Ming dynasty (1522-1566), the island has been a stronghold for coastal defence at the mouth of the Pearl River; it was one of the six such strongholds under the governance of Nantou of the Guangdong province.  In this map of zones of control along the Guangdong coast of Qing dyansty, the name of "Lung Shuen Wan" was recorded.

Archaeological sitesHong Kong Maritime Museum

Archaeological Relics

High Island occupied a unique strategic location.  Underwater archaeological relics help us better understand the role of the High Island region as well as that of Hong Kong in the Maritiem Silk Routes.

Stone Anchor Stock by Antiquities and Monuments OfficeHong Kong Maritime Museum

A stone anchor stock was discovered during the underwater archaeological investigation in Sai Kung waters in 2016. It is believed to have once belonged to a Song dynasty merchant vessel passing through Hong Kong. The shape of the anchor stock is similar to those that have been found in Hakata Bayin in Japan, Quanzhou in Fujian and the Nanhai No. 1 shipwreck in Guangdong. The size of the anchor stock is considerably smaller than the comparative examples listed. It was initially deduced to have belonged to a foreign trading vessel. This significant discovery has provided very important data for further investigation of Song dynasty era maritime trade in Hong Kong.

Suggested reconstruction of stone anchor stockHong Kong Maritime Museum

An anchor is a heavy object that was used to moor a ship to the sea bottom. The horizontal anchor stock found in High Island is a component made of stone for either wooden or stone anchors.

Pottery shards with fish pattern, Sha Tsui by Antiquities and Monuments OfficeHong Kong Maritime Museum

In the early 1970s, remains of an ancient shipwreck were found in Sha Tsui, Sai Kung. Other artefacts like pottery shards were also discovered during the underwater archaeological excavation.

Conservation of cannonHong Kong Maritime Museum

During the 2016 underwater archaeological excavation, two British eighteenth to nineteenth-century iron cannon were found in the Basalt Island at the Southern tip of High Island. The discovery suggests that merchant vessels may have used them for protection in the pirate-invested waters of Sai Kung.

Ceramic shards of Yuan dynasty, Town Island by Antiquities and Monuments OfficeHong Kong Maritime Museum

Other artefacts like ceramic shards were also found in Town Island during the 2016 underwater archaeological excavation.

Tin Hau FestivalHong Kong Maritime Museum


The spread of religion as people settled down in Hong Kong over time meant that the Tin Hau Temple and Catholic church on High Island became witnesses to many changes in society.  The creation of local identity on the island became an important cultural asset bridging relationships between people of varying origins.

Mazu parade during Tin Hau FestivalHong Kong Maritime Museum

The villagers in High Island generally worship the sea goddess Mazu, giving rise to the construction of Mazu Temple (Tin Hau Temple). Tin Hau's Water Parade, a biennial celebration, is the only water parade celebration of Tin Hau along he Guangdong coast.

Tin Hau (20th century) by Tai Cheong Wood EngravingHong Kong Maritime Museum

Statue of Tin Hau wearing a head decoration with five strings filled with beads hanging down her face

A red tablet of a pair made in a convex form with stands by Tai Cheong Wood engravingHong Kong Maritime Museum

A red tablet of a pair made in a convex form with stands. The two are the boat people's ancestral image of the Elderly Man and Elderly Lady, who died at an age of over fifty. They are often portrayed sitting on thrones and dressed in a robe of a wealthy couple.

Old Site of Catholic ChurchHong Kong Maritime Museum

In 1864, Fr. Simeon Volonteri of Pontificium Institution pro Missionibus Exteris P.I.M.E., Milan, Italy arrived in Sai Kung Town, where he was warmly received by the local people and offered a piece of land near the Tin Hau Temple to build a small chapel, a school and quarters. In 1910, a Catholic church was built at Lung Shuen Wan which is now dilapidated. The new church at Pak A village was opened in 1956. Although it is now in poor condition, its sturcture and architectural style can still be seen.

Man Yee Wan Village SchoolHong Kong Maritime Museum


Leung Shuen Bay SchoolHong Kong Maritime Museum

Until the 1950s, due to historical reasons, boat dwellers (Tanka people) rarely had the opportunity to receive an education. Inhabitants on the island, who were mainly Haka people, had access to a traditional private school in 1925, while the Tin Hau Temple of Tung A village and the Catholic church of Pak A village also offered lessons. In 1947, a licence was issued and the name of "Leung Shuen Bay School" was confirmed. Fron them on, both Haka and Tanka people enjoyed equal right to education.

Mariculture RaftsHong Kong Maritime Museum

Economic and Sustainable Development

The economic development of High Island has always been heavily reliant on its fishing industry which includes nearshore fishing and deep sea fishing. In the 1970s, the mariculture rafts at High Island came into use, which the development of motorised fishing vessels significantly increased fishermen's yields.

High IslandHong Kong Maritime Museum

In the recent decade, new opportunities in High Island have come about through the publicity of Tin Hau festivities, and the promotion of cultural conservation as well as the development of eco-tourism. In 2017, the government initiated the "Pier Improvement Programme" which included the pier at High Island and plans to convert Hakka village houses into a youth hostel and to build a peace park to promote eco-tourism.

Fish Plaque by Hong Kong Heritage MuseumHong Kong Maritime Museum

The plaques were towed out to the sea by a fishing boat to attract shoals of fish.

Sai Kung Volcanic Rock RegionHong Kong Maritime Museum

Natural Wonder of the World

Sai Kung Volcanic Rock RegionHong Kong Maritime Museum

High Island is uniquely formed by basalt. Around 140 million years ago, the eastern part of China experienced a period of volcanic activity. During that period, several large volcanoes were found in Hong Kong, one of which was located in what has become present day-Sai Kung. When the modern lava layer cooled down, hexagonal pillars were found and these were distributed in High Island, forming an impressive landscape.

Credits: Story

Created by Katherine Chu, Hong Kong Maritime Museum.
The project was supported by The Lord Wilson Heritage Trust
Libby Lai-Pik Chan, Hong Kong Maritime Museum served as Principle investigor

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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