Does that mean Fang had only passed through Hong Kong once on his way abroad?
Is 船过香港 coherent?
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船过香港 in this context is short for (他乘的)船经过香港. It is not a common way to speak, (more literary than colloquial) but native speakers would have no problem understanding what it means
If you say 路过香港, we would not know you're on a boat and would presume you personally visited Hong Kong briefly
Similarly, we can understand 枪指众人 = 用枪指吓(向)众人; 车弃路旁 = 把汽车弃置在路旁
From a grammatical point of view,
船過 comprises the verb
過 (to pass), and unusually
船 as an adverb which specifies the means of travel. This is slightly archaic; very commonly found in classical Chinese. To illustrate, see the following excerpt from 蒲松齡《狼三則》:
Not long afterwards, one wolf went straight away, but the other sat before (the butcher) like a canine.
犬 is not a grammatical subject (i.e. there were no dogs in the story), but merely an adverb describing the manner the other wolf sits. Similarly,
船 is NOT a noun making two subjects (Fang and the boat) in the sentence
方鴻漸只在出國時船過香港一次, but an adverb describing the way Fang (the only subject) passed through Hong Kong.
As reference, please find Jeanne Kelly and Nathan K Mao (1979)'s translation. Very elegant way of settling the adverbial
船 with an idiomatic phrase.
“With a smile she answered, “Mr. Fang, you’ve really thought of everything! You’ve planned for the whole day.” She didn’t know Fang had only passed through Hong Kong once on his way abroad and couldn’t even remember the directions.”
is easy enough to understand, I think, but actually incoherent. Chinese friends immediately say, "No no no!"
Also very easy to put right:
Miss Su smiled and said:
“方先生，你想得真周到！ "Mr Fang, you are very thorough!
the whole day planned (already)."
She did not know (that) the only time Fang Hongjian went abroad, the ship passed through Hongkong,
now, he couldn't even remember directions (to anywhere).
Fang Hongjian passed through HK once.
Fang Hongjian passed through HK on a ship once.