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Section 4
Writing Nature

This section reveals the part played by amateur geologists in the drawing of early geological maps and the discovery of Hong Kong’s first fossils at the turn of the twentieth century.

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Story 8: 1930 Geoffrey A.C. Herklots


The Biologist

Geoffrey A.C. Herklots

Herklots came to Hong Kong to teach biological science at the University of Hong Kong in 1928, and later joined the Hong Kong Government as Secretary for Development. He is the only professional naturalist in the exhibition, included for his impact on popularizing naturalist observation for amateurs. He laid the foundation for the University of Hong Kong’s Biology Department and the conservation of local fisheries,

Geoffrey A.C. Herklots
Bamboo Snake / Cryptelytrops albolabris

Bamboo Snake

Cryptelytrops albolabris

A common venomous snake of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Countryside: Throughout the Seasons by Herklots describes his encounters with Hong Kong wildlife, including various snakes, one of which is the Bamboo Snake. Herklots kept a few Bamboo snakes as pets and had so many memories with them. One time he was almost bitten by one in his garden. Therefore, Herklots was very familiar with the attack behaviour of the snake. “It holds its head and neck before striking in a horizontal S-shaped curve, not in an inverted L like a cobra, and strikes with rapidity and without warning." he mentioned. During the Japanese occupation, Herklots was held in the Stanley Internment Camp and one internee was bitten by the Bamboo Snake. “He was a policeman of large size...Being Irish he was not a little perturbed by his experience...A year or more after… he told me that even to that day on occasions the base of the finger, that had been bitten, became stiff. Better to be a live policeman with a stiff finger than a stiff policeman.” suggesting Bamboo Snake is not something to be looked down on. Herklots was still glad that his friend was not the first adult in Hong Kong who died of Bamboo Snake's bite.

The Hong Kong

Naturalist Quarterly


The University of Hong Kong

Libraries Collection

The Hong Kong Naturalist was Hong Kong’s first local natural science journal. Founded and edited by Herklots, it included articles by Chinese and foreign professionals across fields ranging from biology to history. It also published articles and paintings written and drawn by amateur naturalists. To make the publication more accessible, Herklots insisted on colour prints of wildlife and a simple, clear writing style. At the time, The Hong Kong Naturalist was regarded as a guide for amateur naturalists. The first issue was published in 1930 and printed until the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in 1941 during WWII.

The Hong Kong Naturalist Quarterly

Story 9: 1932 Wong Pui Gaai


The Civil Servant

Wong Pui Gaai.png

Gaai was one of several local travel-writers that emerged in the 1930s. These travel notes written under the pseudonym Old Man from Jiangshan were published in the Overseas Chinese Daily News along with other columns. In all, his works totalled some 600,000 words. The topics ranged from local stories to descriptions of mountains and rivers, natural scenery, hunting in the wild, and many others. Wong also founded the first travel-hiking group in Hong Kong Xiongfeng Tour Group, which later merged into the now-famous (and second oldest) hiking group Yung Sheh Hikers established just 3 months later. He was last seen during the tumultuous times of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. His works have only been collected and published in recent years.

Wong Pui Gaai
Red Muntjac / Muntiacus muntjak

Red Muntjac

Muntiacus muntjak


The only Cervidae (deer) in Hong Kong. These timid deer look very similar to another deer species named the Chinese Muntjac previously thought to be found in Hong Kong. However, in 2003 genetic testing was conducted on deer populations, concluding only Red Muntjacs were found in Hong Kong. Although Wong's travel notes mainly described local scenery, these muntjacs, along with other mammals such as East Asian Porcupines and South China Tigers were also described in his work.

©️ Wildcreatures Hong Kong

Local Sights of Hong Kong,

with a Hundred Odes of the New Territories


Compiled by local gazetteer researcher Si Shum, this book is a companion article to The New Territories Scenic Spots. Both books contain column articles written by Wong Pui Gaai in the 1930s and 1940s. The book records much of the history of Hong Kong city, its mountains, and its rivers. It is an essential source for studying Hong Kong’s history and introduces the early Hong Kong travel-writer Wong Pui Gaai.


Story 10: 1953 Yip Linfeng

The Writer

Yip Linfeng

©️ The Chinese University of Hong Kong Library

Born in Nanjing, Yip Linfeng was a writer active in Shanghai literary circles during his early years who moved to Hong Kong when the Sino-Japanese War erupted. After arriving in Hong Kong, he continued writing and worked as a newspaper editor. Yip’s column History of Hong Kong in the Sing Tao Daily had already included planned sub-sections entitled ‘plants, trees, insects and fish’when it first launched. However, it was only in 1951 after buying and reading Herklots' Hong Kong Countryside that he began to write articles on this subject matter. His work also included the later column Tai Ping Shan Naturography in the Ta Kung Pao newspaper. Yip's writing seamlessly merged Western naturalist and scientific observations with cultural and historical elements of the local Chinese tradition. His writings led to later generations hailing him as a pioneer of "Hong Kong Nature Writing" and "Hong Kong Studies."

Yip Linfeng
The Cantonese Person's Snake

The Cantonese

Person’s ‘Snake’


Yip Linfeng's writings describe snakes as food and medicine in the eyes of the Cantonese people. He referred to both Herklots’ ecologically-based descriptions of the snakes, but also included local vignettes. One particularly lively scene included describing the removal of a snake's gallbladder and the skinning of snakes by employees of "Lam the Snake Master", a traditional restaurant specialized in cooking snakes. He also clarified common misconceptions about snakes. For instance, he refuted a popular belief that if a 'three-snake' soup had two venomous snakes, eating only one of the two would result in being poisoned. He pointed out the only venomous parts of snakes are on the glands attached to its fangs. Once the head is chopped off, no more venom is present in the snake. 

Hong Kong Naturography,

First edition


The University of Hong Kong

Library Collection

This first edition copy of Hong Kong Naturaography (published 1958) is a collection of 113 column articles by Yip Linfeng in "History of Hong Kong-Plants, Trees, Insects, and Fish" and "Tai Ping Shan Naturography". Remarkably popular in Taiwan, Japan, and China, this book has been reprinted and published almost every decade since its first printing. Ironically, Yip himself rarely spent time exploring in nature. Many of the first-hand field experiences described in the book and illustrations are actually directly taken from Herklots’ works. 


Yip also had a deliberate intent on integrating Hong Kong’s wildlife ‘with the many species and related things found on the motherland [ie. mainland China]’. He combined Chinese cultural elements from mainland China and Hong Kong. This included many direct quotations from the Gazetteer of Xin'an County, an early record describing the region Hong Kong belonged in. This unique fusion of Chinese and Western naturalist writings sparked a great kinship for nature with local readers and also finally made the field of naturalist observation in Hong Kong broadly accessible to non-English speakers. 

Hong Kong Naturography
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