Sunday, 14 December 2014

Miu Gok Yuen Nunnery and Martyr’s Grave, Fung Kat Heung

A couple of years ago (2012), I joined a tour of the New Territories led by a local historian, Dr Patrick Hase. The tour was based around his rather interesting book concerning the so-called "6 Day War" that followed the leasing of the "New Territories" to the British authorities in 1899. We took in various sites that were involved in the handover ceremony as well as the various bouts of fighting that broke out afterwards. We started the tour up on Flagstaff Hill in Tai Po, where the flag-raising ceremony was conducted before moving on to Tai Po Tau, Lam Tsuen and then Sheung Tsuen in Kam Tin. The latter was where the decisive large battle was fought but our last stop of the day was to small village to the north of Kam Tin - a village which holds a rather morbid reminder of those events back in 1899. A mass grave containing the bodies of those killed during the short war.

In the intervening years the six-day war has been almost forgotten in the pages of HK history - or at least relegated to a small side note that lists some small skirmishes. The truth of the matter though is that hundreds of local villagers were killed before the fighting ended. The British troops were fighting poorly equipped/armed (though not necessarily poorly trained) local militias from various villagers around the NT and Shenzhen and simply out-gunned rather than out-manned them.

Despite both sides' keenness to forget about it all and move on, there was a rather significant problem in disposing with all the corpses that had fallen in battle and a mass grave was dug in the small village of Fung Kat Heung to help with the disposal.

Even now, more than 100 years after the rather sad events described, the grave sits and was until recently looked after by some attendant nuns. The grave is actually sited inside the grounds of the nunnery, located at 136 Fung Kat Heung village. The nunnery, called Miu Gok Yuen (Wonderful Enlightenment Garden), is a small estate located at  on the western edge of Kai Kung Leng (a mountain that forms the northern border of Kam Tin near to Yuen Long) and was built in 1936. 

Miu Gok Yuen

But why the big gap (of 37 years) between the creation of the grave and the founding of the nunnery? Well, when the grave was first built in 1899 there were still enough relatives of the dead around to fulfill the important ancestral worship duties expected of a dutiful and respectful villager. As time wore on, fewer and fewer people remained and a decision was taken to get some more permanent help. In a deal struck between the Kam Tin Tang Clan (because it seems that this grave was largely if not wholly, bodies of Tang villagers) and some nuns, the villagers built the nunnery in return for the nuns’ services in attending to the grave and fulfilling the required ritual's to appease the spirits. And so it was for many many years...until just very recently.

The inevitable march of time meant that the number remaining nuns dwindled over the years and until 2010, there was a single solitary nonagenarian nun taking care of business and in 2012 she was taken ill and moved to hospital. As a result of this the nunnery (and the old peoples' home that was inside) had to be ‘temporarily’ shutdown whilst its fate was decided. Unfortunately I haven't been back to find out what happened in the intervening period since I was there, but I am quite optimistic that the area will be preserved. However, this is HK so anything can happen, even graves can be moved, and I have noticed from GoogleEarth that some sort of excavation seems to be going on around the grave site. If anyone has any information, please feel free to update me.

The Martyr's Grave at Fung Kat Heung

The grave is 15 metres in diameter, pretty big, but I guess it had to be to fit the bodies of over 100 people. If the grave looks surprisingly well kept (it is over 100 years old after all) that’s because the local villagers became very patriotic in the run up the the 1997 handover and had the whole thing re-pointed and repainted in a hope of currying some sort of favour with the imminent return to the motherland. As it was no one gave a fig about it and actually this is a great shame because it’s really something that shouldn’t be forgotten.

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