Hong Kong is a sub-tropical region characterized by high temperature and sparing rainfall. In phytogeographical theories, the native vegetation should comprise primarily of broad-leaved trees. However, human activities have caused devastating damages to our woodlands over the years. Trees were chopped down for timber or firewood, woods were pushed back to create agricultural land, and hillfires, both intentional and accidental, destroyed trees in their thousands. The problem was aggravated by war, which eventually wiped out almost all native forests. Today, only in remote valleys can one find small native forests. Amazingly, many native lush forests are preserved on slopes behind villages. These are fung shui woods, a common rural feature of Southern China.
What Are Fung Shui Woods?
Tree felling is a fung shui taboo. Old trees are believed to be closely linked to the fortune and development of a village, so they should not be chopped down casually. It is for this reason that fung shui woods behind rural villages are carefully preserved. To ensure sustainable good fung shui, all unfavourable activities that might cause damage are forbidden.
Sheung Wo Hang village, next to the wooded slopes of a major mountain range
In other words, thanks to a pious faith in fung shui, particularly the belief in a connection between trees and good fortune, trees and the natural environment have been preserved. Under the care and protection of villagers, forests matured and flourished over the years to form natural woods of great species diversity, so that in the rural parts of Hong Kong, despite relentless human disturbance for more than a century, mature and unique fung shui woods with high ecological value enjoy a sustainable existence.
Fung shui woods are landmarks of Southern China. Found mainly in the lowlands, they feature species which probably have particular fung shui significance and were selected at the time a village was built. Another common character is that fung shui woods are almost always set to embrace the village, which has a symbolic meaning of protection.
When setting up villages, early settlers preserved the native vegetation (trees or shrubs) behind their homes. Later, they planted fruit trees, Banyans, Camphors, bamboos and other commercial plants demanded by other rural communities on the edges of native forests. This maximized the benefits of native forests, and the two types of vegetation merged to form fung shui woods, until eventually the typical fung shui wood setting known today emerged.