Hong Kong is home to hundreds of temples and shrines, but one of the most famous is Man Mo Temple.
In Cantonese, Man (文) means literature, while Mo (武) means martial or military. Man Mo Temple is dedicated to two of the most-worshipped deities in Chinese culture: Man Cheung (the god of literature) and Kwan Yu (the god of war).
Man Cheung (文 昌) was alleged to have been a handsome man who lived in Szechuan province during the Tang Dynasty. Reincarnated numerous times, he was elevated as a Taoist deity in the Yuan period, about 1314 A.D..
Those seeking office or academic success for themselves — or their children — pray to him for assistance. Statues of Man Cheung show him dressed in green robes and holding a writing brush.
Kwan Yu (關 羽) was born in Shantung province in 161 A.D., and enlisted in the army as a young man in 184 A.D.. Rising through the ranks with great speed, he became a famous general renowned as a model of virtue and martial prowess.
Kwan Yu became divine in 1100 A.D. and was further elevated in 1594 to deity as Kwan Daaih (god-king). A Taoist symbol of integrity and loyalty, Kwan Yu is the patron saint of martial artists, tradesmen, the Hong Kong police and even triads. In turn, business people regard him as the deity of money-making and pray for blessings in this regard. His birthday is celebrated during the sixth moon.
Statues of Kwan Yu depict him as a fierce man of stature in red robes (though often in green as it's said he liked wearing the colour) and holding a long sword. His red face signifies a ruddy and healthy complexion.
Another god found in Man Mo Temple is Bao-gung, the god of justice, whose face is painted jet-black. Worshippers can purchase huge, conical incense coils, which hang smoldering from the ceiling in the middle hall, filling the room with fragrant smoke. Staying inside for long periods isn't recommended, but a short visit won't hurt. You'll come away smelling of incense regardless.
Some visitors make a donation to the temple before thumping a drum; others strike a large cast-iron bell. The large brass incense burners, oil lamps, wooden furniture, red pillars and ornate gate with lintel add to the temple's ancient feel.
During the Qing Dynasty, Man Mo Temple also served as a people's court when British laws couldn't resolve local disputes. Promises (and curses for vengeance against broken promises) were sworn inside the temple and then written on a piece of yellow paper by the plaintiff and defendant. This was sealed by cutting the head off a live chicken and spilling its blood on the paper; the note was then burned. Anyone breaking a promise made before the gods would be visited with the curses they called down upon themselves.
The superstitious can learn what destiny has in store by visiting the right-hand hall, where an English-speaking fortune-teller waits to decipher the meaning of the fortune stick shaken from a bamboo cup.
Man Mo Temple is located at the junction of Hollywood Road and Ladder Street, in the Sheung Wan district on Hong Kong Island.