How on earth did the common carp, a freshwater fish, thrive in the sea?
Answer: In name only.
And the name probably applies only to Lei Yue Mun, a small sea lane that separates Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
Lei yue means common carp. In the sea, it would be fish out of water.
But it’s okay, according to Chinese legend, which attributes its mythical presence in Lei Yue Mun to carp “leaping over the Dragon’s Gate”.
While Lei Yue Mun is a misnomer, everything else about other places in Hong Kong named after a fish is in order.
For instance, Chek Lap Kok comes from chek lap or Japanese seabream (赤鱲) and Tsing Yi is derived from the blackspot tuskfish (青衣) abundant in its waters.
These names are hardly surprising given that Hong Kong was a fishing village hundreds of years before Lord Palmerston called it a barren rock.
The naming tradition goes back to Guangdong province, which was home to sea-dwelling fisherfolk, many of whom sailed south and settled in Hong Kong.
Today, Hong Kong regards the carp as an auspicious symbol. It is thought to have kept the narrow channel free from disasters.
In the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912), Hong Kong waters teemed with pirates.
Zheng Lian-chang was the pirate chief in Lei Yue Mun, where legend says he secretly hoarded gold in the rock caves never to be found.
He ordered the construction of Tin Hau Temple in Ma Wan Tsuen 1753 after he woke up from a dream in which the Goddess of the Sea had told him not to rob or kill again.
It’s unlikely Zheng heeded the dream because he later made the temple an outpost for his pirate crew.
Zheng went on to raise a clan. A grandson followed in his footsteps and became a notorious pirate himself.
In recent times, gold was also thought to be buried in the seabed in Lung Kwu Chau, a small island off the coast of Tuen Mun.
The Japanese vessel Shirogane Maru (白銀丸) — a steamer service between Hong Kong, Macau and Canton during World War II — exploded mysteriously, killing 600 passengers and dumping its cargo of precious metal — about eight tons of it — into the water.
Attempts were made in the 1950s and 1960s to recover the treasure but all came up empty-handed.
It’s believed the Goddess of the Sea holds the key to the sunken secret.
Devil’s Peak: Kowloon’s fortress hill (Nov. 7, 2015)
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 16.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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