In the spring of 1991 the First Presidency requested the Asia Area Presidency—consisting of Elders Merlin R. Lybbert, W. Eugene Hansen, and Monte J. Brough—to discreetly begin a search for a temple site in Hong Kong. They found several small and, in their view, inadequate sites with extremely high price tags. President Gordon B. Hinckley visited those sites in April of that year and encouraged the Area Presidency to keep looking.
Late in 1991 two more sites were identified. One was part of a government development project near an ocean bay known locally as Junk Bay (a “junk” is a Chinese boat). The other potential site was located in Fanling. Neither the Fanling nor the Junk Bay site was easily accessible or convenient to the people who would use the temple, so the search continued.
Unfortunately, time was running short. If Hong Kong was going to have a temple, it would best be built by July 1, 1997.
A little world history might be important here to understand the urgency of completing the temple in Hong Kong by July 1997. In 1898 Hong Kong became a British colony with the signing of a 99-year lease, expiring June 30, 1997. In December 1984, British and Chinese authorities signed a declaration confirming that the British government would hand over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997.
In June 1992 the Area Presidency was reorganized, with Elders Monte J. Brough, John K. Carmack, and Kwok Yuen Tai as members of the presidency.
In July President Hinckley called the Area Presidency twice to discuss the Fanling and Junk Bay sites. President Hinckley also indicated that he and Ted Simmons, managing director of the Church Physical Facilities Department, would come to Hong Kong on July 25 to choose the site for the temple.
When President Hinckley and Brother Simmons arrived, Elders Brough and Carmack took them to half a dozen potential sites, starting at Kom Tong Hall, where the area office was located. (Elder Tai was away from Hong Kong on a trip at the time.) After looking at all the sites, President Hinckley, Brother Simmons, and Elders Brough and Carmack met with four stake presidents in the Hong Kong region. President Hinckley discussed his feelings about the various sites and probed the stake presidents’ feelings. He found them supportive of any decision he would make.
The group was exhausted from the rigorous day of prayerfully reviewing the various properties. President Hinckley retired to his hotel room and requested that Elders Brough and Carmack come back the next morning to further discuss the matter. It was apparent that the Area Presidency had yet to find a solution President Hinckley could accept.
At about 6:45 a.m., President Hinckley called Elder Brough and requested that he and Elder Carmack come to his hotel room at 8:00 a.m. Brother Simmons joined them there at the appointed time, and President Hinckley then shared, on a sheet of white paper, a detailed drawing. During the night, he had envisioned a building of about eight floors above ground, with the temple on the top floors and other functions housed on the lower floors. It included replacement facilities for the Kowloon Tong chapel and the Hong Kong mission home and office, since the new building would require that these existing buildings on side-by-side lots be demolished. This concept of multiple use, President Hinckley explained, would depart from tradition in that all other temples in the Church at that time were stand-alone buildings.
President Hinckley asked Elders Brough and Carmack to express their feelings. They each responded that the concept of a multi-story, multi-use building had not even been considered previously, but they had a strong conviction that President Hinckley had received inspiration—even revelation—about what the Lord intended.
After briefly reviewing the other options, President Hinckley asked the brethren to join in prayer. He asked if it would be all right if he offered the prayer. He then discussed the whole matter with the Lord. He talked of the need for a temple in China to bless the people in that area of the world. The prayer was powerful and compelling, evidencing his love for all the people of Asia.
Those present then returned to the Kowloon Tong site, walking the area. They crossed the street to check the neighborhood and view the site from all aspects, checking particularly the access to it from the underground railway systems. Then Elders Brough and Carmack returned President Hinckley and Brother Simmons to the Kai Tak International Airport.
After returning to Salt Lake City, President Hinckley presented his sketch to the Temple Department, asking that the architects turn the concept into building plans as soon as possible. Seeing an opportunity to expand the functions of the building, the department’s architects created a plan for a larger building—nearly twice the size of President Hinckley’s initial concept. To build this building, they would need a variance to the height limitations and other restrictions imposed on buildings in the area.
When the plans were completed, permission was sought to build this expanded facility, but afer many months of negotiations with Hong Kong officials, the proposed building was rejected.
At the April 1993 general conference, President Hinckley invited Brother Simmons and Elders Brough, Carmack, and Tai to his office. He asked why the approval process was going so slowly and what might be done to obtain a building permit. After referring to President Hinckley’s earlier experience in Hong Kong and testifying of the feelings the Area Presidency had on that occasion, the Area Presidency unanimously recommended that the Church return to the original concept described by President Hinckley in Hong Kong.
Once the plans were redone to reflect the original concept in President Hinckley’s sketch, the necessary approvals were quickly obtained. Within days, various British, Hong Kong, and Chinese officials issued permits for the temple’s construction.
On May 26 and 27, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Hong Kong China Temple. In the dedicatory prayer, he prayed:
“Thy Church in this area now comes to full maturity with the dedication of this sacred temple. We pray that this harvest of souls may continue, that in the future as in the present, Thy people may be free and secure in their worship and that none shall hinder the service of missionaries called to this area. We pray that Thy work may grow and prosper in the great Chinese realm, and may those who govern be ever receptive to those called and sent as messengers of revealed truth.”