The Trade of Incense in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
Hong Kong, with its literally meaning as Port of Fragrance, has its history in relation to incense products, both on agarwood cultivation and joss-stick manufacturing. From this incense trade and production, we understand the complicated historical relations between Hong Kong and Southeast Asia with the global movement of incense as well as its ingredients, which travel from region to region and even across oceans from continent to continent, based on the social and political development among various countries. This movement of incense and ingredients not only reminds us of how objects and materials move, but also of the changing concepts of smell as well as lifestyles among human groups. By focusing on the incense trade in Hong Kong, this project shows how the use of incense is actually a complicated socio-cultural development in the modern history of transnational trade network in Southeast Asia, and has inspired detailed studies on specific items such as joss-sticks, aromatic oil, agarwood etc., which all bring significant contributions to the understanding of modern economy and politics. Another item showing the changing trade relation between Hong Kong and Southeast Asia is the agarwood trade. Agarwood is the heartwood of wounded Aquilaria species found in the tropical rainforest from India on the west to Papua New Guinea on the east; the fragrant resin was produced because of its fungal infection, and the history of its use can be traced back to 3,000 years ago when Egyptians used it for their death ritual. Agarwood was widely used in both ancient medicine and modern perfume, therefore its market value has been confirmed and unquestionable. Due to the increase of demand over the years, over-harvesting has become a serious problem in many Southeast Asian countries. Conservation NGOs such as Traffic, WWF and IUCN have looked at the issue closely, and relevant reports have been published for the understanding of current situations. Based on their reports, we do not only get to know relevant policies set up to protect species in certain regions such as trade controls of A. malaccensis under CITIES in 1995; but also how sustainable management and community-based farming plans have been developed for local communities. Since Hong Kong used to play a significant role in agarwood trade; therefore, this project will also explore agarwood production in SE Asia in order to investigate Hong Kong’s current position in the trade which is centred in Singapore.

(For more information, please contact: sidneycheung@cuhk.edu.hk )

Related article [相關的論文]

  • 2011 尋香記 (A Fragrant Legend)Hong Kong Discovery野外動向63,頁 102-109March/April
  • 2011 憐材惜香 - 現代社會的憂鬱。
  • (forthcoming) When All Wood With Fragrance Melts Into Air: The Asian Experience of Incense.

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