In Kowloon Bay, outside the former Kai Tak Airport, lies the Sung Wong Toi Garden. Inside stands a stone tablet bearing three big Chinese characters: “Song Wang Tai” (the Song Emperor’s Terrace).
For many visitors, the stone tablet looks like just another ornament. But for those interested in history, a pair of memorials – one in English and the other in Chinese – recount the story of the Song loyalists who, from 1276 to 1279, resisted the Mongols after their capital city, Lin’an (today’s Hangzhou), had fallen. As the loyalists fled their home, they took refuge in Kowloon Bay in 1278, before continuing their journey. In 1279, they were cornered in Yashan, just west of Hong Kong, and fought to the bitter end in a heroic sea battle.
During the first half of the 20th century, this story of resistance was twice given new meaning. After China’s 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty, some Qing loyalists settled in Hong Kong. To show their opposition to the new Republic of China, they commemorated the “benevolent rule” of the Manchu (1644-1911) by regularly visiting the Song Emperor’s Terrace.
In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, the Hong Kong government expanded the Kai Tak Airport by levelling the Sacred Hill where the Song Emperor’s Terrace used to be. Wanting to preserve the legacy of the Song loyalists, they moved what remained of the Song Emperor’s Terrace into a newly built Chinese-style garden, the “Sung Wong Toi Garden”. Together, the garden, tablet, and two memorials showed the world that Hong Kong was “a bastion of freedom” at the doorsteps of Communist China.
In both cases, the remembrance of Song loyalism was to give hope to people in difficult times. Now, as the MTR is building the Sha Tin to Central Link, the Song Emperor’s Terrace will speak out again. Once the railway is completed, thousands of passengers will pass through the “Sung Wong Toi” station daily. The memory of Song Emperor’s Terrace will no longer lay dormant. It will evoke new meanings as Hong Kong meets the challenges of the 21st century.