Hong Kong Protesters Pin Hopes For Political Change on Year of The Rat

Hong Kong’s protesters saw off the Year of the Pig and counted in the Year of the Rat on Friday with the same message to their government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing as they had on Jan. 1: a demand for fully democratic elections and accountability for police violence during the protest movement that has rocked the city since last June.

With the now-ubiquitous black protest banner reading “Free Hong Kong! Revolution in our Time!” waving above the heads of hundreds of people at Kowloon’s Wong Tai Sin Temple, a traditional meeting place at Lunar New Year, protesters held up five fingers, reiterating the five demands of the movement.

As the city’s seven million residents hunkered down for the traditional festivities, many public celebrations including the fireworks display were called off, with police citing fears for “public safety” in the wake of a protest movement that has seen thousands of arrests and thousands of tear gas canisters fired at crowds, amid a storm of international criticism.

The Lunar New Year racing meet will go ahead, but with a prebooked crowd limited to 8,000 people, compared with the tens of thousands who normally like to try their luck on the horses at this time of year.
Health screening and body temperature checks will be mandatory for anyone who attends.

Meanwhile, visitors to a usually bustling festive market in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park said the atmosphere was less fun and interesting since the government banned non-flower stalls, effectively banning a whole range of satirical novelty items that usually carried political messages.

“I came to support … yellow [pro-protest] businesses, and I left after I had bought something,” a shopper surnamed Lau told RFA. “Why are they wiping out what used to be a Hong Kong tradition? It doesn’t make sense.”

Sustainability

Another shopper surnamed Tseng said there are many businesses in Hong Kong that are deliberately looking to sell to, and support, the protest movement, whose participants are often young, vulnerable, and without a good income.

“Many shops are looking specifically for protesters to do handicrafts or workshops so they can make a living,” Tseng said. “It’s called sustainability.”

A shopper surnamed Wong said she would spend as much as possible in yellow businesses to support those who support the movement.

The organizer of a yellow shopping event in Causeway Bay, who gave only a nickname, Lokson, said yellow businesses are often targeted by officials for health and safety spot checks.

But he said the yellow economy will remain as long as the protests continue.

“The people of Hong Kong have been fighting for their freedom for the past six months, so I want to give the people of Hong Kong economic freedom as well,” Lokson said. “I think we need to stand up and take action.”

He said the yellow economy has been built from the bottom up by people who aren’t part of the financial elite in the city.

“It is similar to the current state of society, because it is made by a class that doesn’t have powerful interests behind it, and it is resisting such powerful interests,” he said.

Apps developed

A number of apps have been developed to help Hong Kong’s diners and shoppers find businesses that support their broader political views and aims.

The Rice Pig guide, punning on the Michelin guide in Chinese, offers users a search function for restaurants in their district who identify as part of the yellow economy.

It also lists businesses that identify as “blue,” shorthand for supporters of the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong Police Force.

Wolipay, “pay with you,” is a reference to the ‘shop with you’ peaceful protests in malls and shopping districts in recent months. It allows filtered searches for specific types of goods and services, from supermarkets and coffee shops to pet grooming and cosmetics.

WoliEat lists restaurants in Hong Kong in terms of their political allegiance, and links to their listings on the restaurant app Openrice.

Meanwhile, politically neutral businesses are generally categorised as “green,” halfway between yellow and blue on the spectrum of opinion.

Reported by Man Hoi-tsan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei and Li Zonghan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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