top of page

Do you guys know about the history of Hong Kong? It's related to incense!

Do you guys know about the History of Hong Kong? Why Hong Kong is named as Hong Kong and what is the meaning of this name? I would like to tell you that Hong Kong is not only a previous British Colony since 1841, it has a far longer history then that. Hong香 Kong港 means Incense(香 ) Harbour (港) in Chinese meaning. In Song Dynasty (960–1279), the middle and late period of Heian Period (平安時代) of Japan, Agarwood tree was already cultivated in Hong Kong and also Canton Province (廣東省Guangdong Province). Actually there was an Agarwood wholesale market in Dongguan東莞 and people will ship the goods (the sold agarwood) first to Hong Kong then to other place. And thus this is why Hong Kong is called as Hong Kong which means Incense Harbour.

Hong Kong is a place that always related to incense. During the Communist China just established, as you know, Marxism oppose any religions and thus Incense industry was banned in China in 50's to 70's. Therefore, so many famous traditional incense brand near Canton province moved to Hong Kong and Macau (those near Fujian province moved to Taiwan). Therefore, during the 50's to 70's, incense brand of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan is the only exporter of incense for Chinese diaspora all over the world.

Chinese incense culture for entertainment actually can be trace back BC era, in the Spring and Autumn period (approximately 771 to 476 BCE ) (If for religious purpose it will be far more earlier ) as we found small incense burner in different tombs in that period. The Chinese incense culture is strong affected by Indian incense culture and Middle-East incense culture as actually India and Middle East has so many different spices and aromatic herbs and resins. Such as Myrrh and frankincense from Aman and Middle East is used for making incense as well as medical purpose in Chinese medicine. The usage of Agarwood and Sandalwood from India is broadly used by Chinese Buddhist because of Buddhism has been in China since Han Dynasty (2BC). As China Dynasty were the fashion icon of Eastern Asia (just like now the Korean pop star), Korean and Japanese learnt this incense culture from China and brought back to their own country and localized as their own special incense culture. Culture is always the result of interaction, they are affecting each other continuously.

You may ask why now Chinese incense is not as famous as Japanese while it seems to be the origin of the Japanese incense culture? Firstly, Japanese really respect their own culture no matter that culture origin is from herself or from other places. Japanese keep their tradition, respect their tradition and pay so much effort to educate their offspring about how to appreciate the traditional culture and also the wisdom of the ancestor. Buddhism is still a really hit religion in Japan and thus the incense usage is still so famous and thus the incense industry is good and willing to pay effort in research and development (R&D). In China, as you know as ruled by communist, religion cannot be broadly spread and all of the thing is under control under the CCP, and thus incense culture was suspended for decades, thus so many tradition of incense culture was lost. But luckily, in recent decade, Chinese incense culture is again coming back because of the economic situation is better, but as you know the culture will never go back if the tradition is lost. The current incense ceremony in China is mostly referred to Japanese Incense ceremony as Chinese own incense ceremony is lost. Also, as for recent century, incense in China is seldom used for entertainment but merely for religious purpose, as you know for last 100 years, general Chinese was so poor, but you know that poor people may still have strong religious need. Therefore, cheap and smelly incense has become so famous and this cheap and smelly incense makes people have bad stereotype towards incense. So, if you visited temple of Hong Kong and China, you may have the feel that why the incense is so smelly? Is that traditionally Chinese keep using smelly incense for religious purpose as well as leisure entertainment? I tell you, no, absolutely no. How can those smelly incense can exalt poetic mood? Ancient people had no essential oil nor perfume and thus good incense was generally used. However, as nowadays, we have so many alternatives, while incense has strong negative stereotype, which is smelly, bad for the body (because of its bad quality with chemical ingredients), old fashion, superstitious, non-scientific, etc. Traditional incense industry in Hong Kong, Taiwan is facing economic risks and thus no more investment in R & D. However, Japanese incense kept the tradition with their strong culture support and thus they have resources to invest in R&D and spread the Japanese incense culture all over the world. Perhaps this is the general reason that why Chinese incense is no more famous comparing with Japanese incense.

I am a Hongkonger and I am trying to keep the tradition of Chinese incense culture. I make my own incense and teach incense course in Hong Kong. If you would like to know more, please visit our website and 香港傳統香文化保育 港香堂公司 Hong Kong Incense Companyand Instagram (hongkongincense) then you may find us.

Hope you like my sharing.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page