I live near the Man Mo Temple, situated on Hollywood Road. A few times a week, I walk past the temple, sometimes walking inside for a few minutes, just to feel the atmosphere and to smell the large incense burners. The temple is always busy with tourists, who come to see one of the most famous temples that is situated right next to the busy center of Hong Kong Island.
The temple was already quite famous – and busy – in the 1950s, as I read in the beautiful autobiographic novel ‘Gweilo’ (Martin Booth, 2004):
Dodging coolies slogging up the ladder streets with full loads hanging from their poles, I reached the temple. It was roofed in green-glazed tiles with a decorated ridge of warriors, gods, dragons and demons. I stepped into the forecourt to be surrounded by a gaggle of wizened crones, with arms outstretched for kumshaw [alms] … Inside, it was sumptuous, rich scarlet banners hanging with thick, black, dramatic characters upon them. The altar was pristine and the deities most impressive. … The air was heavy with smoke. …
“The temple”, he [an elderly Chinese man] enunciated slowly, “is called Man Mo temple. Man means literature and Mo means war. As you can see there are two gods. Man Cheung, the god of literature, wears a green robe and Kwan Yu, who is also called Kwan Ti, wears a red robe. He is the god of war. … Kwan Yu was a real man. He lived two thousand years ago in the time of the Han Dynasty when he was a general in the emperor’s army. Now he is the saint of brotherhoods, especially policemen and gangsters.”
The book goes on: the author describes his amusement that the same god (Kwan Yu) is worshipped by both the police as the gangsters. I had the same experience a few weeks ago, when I found out that both the police and military forces as well as the Triads worship this god.
It made me wonder: When there is a true fight between the two parties, whose side will the god take?