THE XIANG TREE SHENZHEN

Wutong Mountain has one of South China’s last remaining stands of the Xiang or Incense tree, which the Shenzhen City Government has taken steps to preserve.

This tree has great historical significance for the area. This tree, known in Cantonese as the Heung tree, is the tree after which Hong Kong is named. It is common in English books about Hong Kong to translate Hong Kong’s name as “Fragrant Harbour”. Actually Hong Kong, Heung Kong, means the harbour of the Heung or Incense tree referring to a vigorous trade in Heung wood, which continued from early times until the Hong Kong area was completely denuded of trees in the Qing Dynasty. When the British Parliament debated Hong Kong during the first Opium War, references were made to Hong Kong as a “barren rock”, a very accurate description as contemporary photos demonstrate. The British were successful in replanting Hong Kong Island but this was done mainly with exotic species and did not include the Heung tree. So the stand on Wutong Mountain has a particular significance.

Incidentally the 19th century British were not deaf or stupid when they transliterated the name as “Hong” rather than “Heung”. Hong is the pronunciation of the Tanka or boat people who made up the bulk of Hong Kong’s population in the mid 19th Century. You can still hear this pronunciation in the fishing boats of Aberdeen today but it is fast disappearing.

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