Home to the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven and cornerstone of Wan Chai heritage

Dragon Statue at Pak Tai Temple
Large Paper Lantern at Pak Tai Temple
Minor Altar at Pak Tai Temple
Three Red Windows Side by Side at Pak Tai Temple
Pak Tai Temple Entrance
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Pak Tai – Born mortal, uplifted to deity

When seeking protection from natural disasters, look to the night sky. Specifically at Pak Tai, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven. Especially worshipped by people in China’s southern regions, he protects against flood waters from the north. Born a mortal like the rest of us, Pak Tai (also known as Yuen Tin Sheung Tai) initially began life as a prince in the Shang dynasty (approximately 1776-1046 BC) before being uplifted to deity status. As the largest of six temples in Hong Kong dedicated to the worship of Pak Tai, the Wan Chai Pak Tai Temple (or Yuk Hui Kung) is a monument to the perseverance of local faith and spirituality through the centuries. Tucked away in the backstreets of Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district, the temple is a site of ongoing cultural and historical significance.

Stone lions, koi fish and joss sticks provide spiritual comfort and protection

As visitors walk up to the temple, their eyes are treated with visual feasts. Small, carved stone lions sit atop the iron fence that lines the perimeter, guarding the temple from untoward spirits. Beautiful, handcrafted murals enliven the temple exterior, depicting scenes from Chinese folk stories and everyday life. Peaches and scholars are common motifs, as are tigers and lotuses. The temple roof, tiled in red glazed ceramic, is ornately embellished with spiralling dragons, clusters of scholars and jumping koi fish.

The interior is just as stunning, if not more. Photography is prohibited within the temple, so I carefully committed the scene to memory. Above the temple doorframe sits a granite lintel. Elaborately carved and coloured in gold, the characters for Yuk Hui Temple are framed in red and grey. Stepping inside, the entire space is bathed in warm light. A fine mist lingers throughout, courtesy of the lit joss sticks that line the incense pavilion in the centre of the room. More incense sits at the feet of a towering statue. At three metres in height, Pak Tai’s bronze figure is robed in a fine outfit. Careful observers will notice a curious inscription at the hem of the robes, marking the thirty-first year of the Wanli reign (1603). A tortoise and serpent, which reflect Pak Tai’s origin story, are trodden under his feet as symbols of righteousness triumphing over evil.

Pak Tai – the Jade Emperor’s legion commander

Who is Pak Tai? Going back three millennia, Pak Tai began life as a Chinese prince. But destiny had other plans. Following the fall of the Shang dynasty, the Demon King wreaked havoc upon the world. As a noteworthy martial figure, Pak Tai was noticed by the Taoist Primeval Deity, Yuanshi Tianzun. At the Primeval Deity’s behest, the Jade Emperor appointed the mortal Pak Tai as commander of twelve heavenly legions to defeat the scourge. In retaliation, the Demon King summoned a gigantic tortoise and serpent to attack the soldiers. After gruelling attacks, Pak Tai eventually arose victorious.

Following his success, Pak Tai was bestowed with the title of Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven. Associated with the northern stars and the sea, Pak Tai is revered for his courage and strength. Since his victory over the Demon King, Pak Tai has also become associated with water, and he is considered a guardian against water-related risks and dangers related to sea voyages.

From Hong Kong’s early history as a fishing and trading port to its current metropolitan status, Wan Chai Pak Tai Temple remains an integral community pillar. While the landscape has changed, the people’s needs remain the same. Whether religiously or spiritually inclined, the temple is well-regarded and cared for. Even as the storefronts in the surrounding area change, I do not doubt that the residents of Wan Chai district will continue paying respect at Pak Tai Temple.

Text and photos Victoria Mae Martyn