Prehistoric sites abound in the territory now known as Hong Kong, attesting to settlements dating back seven thousand years. 

Bronze Age (1500 – 220 BC) remains include rock carvings, scattered around the islands, which feature geometric patterns that have been associated with unknown early religious practices, based on cosmology. 

Hong Kong, however, does not feature greatly in the later annals of Chinese history, though it is first mentioned during the Qin Dynasty from 221 BC, and known to have hosted a Han Dynasty settlement on Ma Wan Island in 206 BC. 

The earliest remaining temple in Hong Kong is the Taoist Tin Hau Temple at Joss House Bay, built in 1266 AD, and dedicated to the Queen of Heaven, who significantly also protects seafarers. Taoism and Chinese folk religions were the most practiced beliefs in Hong Kong during its early period, along with Buddhism and ancestor worship.

Under the Qing Dynasty in 1661, the coastal areas were evacuated by imperial edict, putting an end to Hong Kong settlements until reopening to facilitate European trade. 

Buddhism is the largest of the professed religions of Hong Kong, and is known to have been present in the fifth century AD at the hermitage cave of Pui To, on Castle Peak, around which the Tsing Shan Monastery has been built, with the present structure dating to 1926, and famously used in the early sequences of ‘Enter the Dragon’. 

Numerous other Buddhist and Taoist temples abound in Hong Kong, mostly built during the British and modern eras. Chinese animist folk traditions, Ancestor Worship, Taoism and Confucianism have all commingled in commonly held Chinese beliefs, and nowhere is this more evident than at Wong Tai Sin Temple, which freely combines all these elements in fusion. 

Christianity came to Hong Kong with the establishment of the British colony in 1841, when Catholicism and Protestantism were both introduced, which together remain the most popular of Christian traditions observed in Hong Kong today. 

In addition to these main forms, Mormonism and numerous Evangelical groups have also now established themselves. The popularity of Christianity, a substantial minority following within Hong Kong society, has become intertwined with the pro-democracy demonstrations of recent years, bringing suspicion from the Chinese authorities.

Islam also arrived under British rule, with British Indian regiments, and the business success of Hong Kong has since attracted many Muslims to the City from all over Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Recently, many domestic workers imported from Indonesia have swelled the muslim population.  

The earliest of Hong Kong’s mosques is the Jamia Mosque, dating back to 1890, though the original was rebuilt in 1905. Another early example is the Kowloon Mosque, dating back to 1896, but again, the original structure was rebuilt 1984. Several other mosques belonging to the modern period have also been established.

The British period, due to its contemporaneous rule of India also introduced both Hinduism and Sikhism to Hong Kong, both of which survive as minority religions.

The main Hindu Temple in Hong Kong can be found at Happy Valley, while the Sikh’s main temple is in Wan Chai.

Judaism is another minority religion which entered Hong Kong in the 1840’s, during the early period of the former British colony, with the first wave arriving from Canton and the Portuguese settlement at Macau. The main place of worship in Hong Kong is the Ohel Leah Synagogue, in Robinson Street, which together with the Jewish Community Centre is at the heart of Hong Kong’s Jewish community.

Other minority religions present in Hong Kong include Jainism, with a Jain temple in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon and the Baha’i faith. 

In addition to the profusion of temples of different faiths in Hong Kong, Atheism is widely espoused by Hong Kong residents, and is in fact the largest group, outnumbering even the adherents of the territory's most popular Chinese religions. 

Despite the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997, the freedom of religion is still enshrined in Law, and is more liberal than that of the mainland. The multicultural landscape is also reflected in Hong Kong’s public holidays, where Chinese festivals such as the Lunar New Year, the Ching Ming Festival, and the Mid-Autumn festival are celebrated along with the Buddha’s Birthday, Easter and Christmas.

 

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