Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Back the new edition of the Kowloon Walled City book!

We posted some of photographer Greg Girard’s photos a while ago, and it looks like they’re ready to jet set a new edition of their book along with previously-unseen photographs and research.

Back out their Kickstarter now.

Hong Kong’s First Online Petitions Platform


Full disclosure: I worked on the design for this project.

Online petition platforms have taken off in the English speaking world, but what about a Chinese petition platform? In the US and UK, the government both run official petition platforms (remember the Death Star petition to the White House?) and there are a whole host of free-for-all services like change.org, Causes and Avaaz. But in the Chinese-speaking world, they’re still in their infancy. The Mainland Chinese government’s own petition platform crashed during its debut, and even now requires real name registration before you can even access its contents.

In Hong Kong, multinational organizations like WWF have their own online solutions, while smaller local players have to choose between a Google Form embed or one of the free-for-all English-language platforms. SupportHK is (to my knowledge) the first, homegrown open petition platform in Hong Kong, but there is a catch. It’s only available for environment-related petitions; this editorial decision is either a lost opportunity (if you’re gunning for large-scale political change) or a clever tactic (if you realize that environmental issues are being buried by other, more contentious issues).

The bet with SupportHK is that a local community of engaged citizens will emerge around the platform. For starters, that would be useful for government-related petitions, for which only signatures from local residents or citizens count. (Hong Kong petitions on international platforms are often filled with support from foreigners, which do not always make the best case when petitioning a very Hong Kong-centric entity.) And signing petitions is also an interesting activity for Hong Kong itself, as it finds its feet as a democratic city-state that just happens to be a part of China.

Visit SupportHK.

Apple dominates in the Chinese MOOC space even though it’s not a MOOC


Spurred by this article on MOOCs taken hold in Hong Kong, I decided to do a survey on MOOC adoption by Chinese institutions. I did not, as you can see, survey any Chinese MOOC platforms (are there any?), so it’s a bit of a biased selection.

How a bookstore evolved into becoming a banned books center in Hong Kong


From the Atlantic, In Hong Kong, a Sanctuary for Banned Books:

Later that year we began to get mainland visitors from cities like Beijing and Tianjin who were traveling on their own. Our sign said “People’s Commune” in Chinese, and our logo was Mao Zedong’s face, so maybe that caught their eye. Sometimes, customers would ask me questions like, “Hey boss, do you have any copies of Zhou Enlai’s Later Years?’ At the time I didn’t get it, I still wasn’t so familiar with books published in simplified characters. I would tell them that I’d look into it and found a couple of Hong Kong publishers with that book or maybe The Private Life of Chairman Mao. I wasn’t really into politics – we were primarily selling books about art and culture…

We began selling more and more banned books in late 2004. People were interested in the power transition from [President] Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao [which was drawn out over two years]. Customers would come back and ask, “What else do you have?” They were really interested in what was going on during the leadership change and were unable to read anything about it on the mainland. We started off with a tiny shelf of political books, eventually it grew to take up a counter, and as sales continued to improve more of the store was taken up by banned books.

Not mentioned in the article: The bookstore-cafe also sells milk powder, a highly sought after good after China’s tainted milk powder scanda in 2008.


Read the full article here.

(Photo sources: 1, 2.)

Kowloon Walled City repository

Those of us who’ve been in Hong Kong are constantly barraged by articles and people describing the magic of the now-dismantled Kowloon Walled City. Amidst the romanticization of this 6.5 acre block that was ungoverned or policed for decades (it lay in limbo between communist China and colonial British rule), people rarely offer any photographs of its inside. Until now, I had seen more of it’s outside and bird’s eye view than its innards.

Discovering 99% Invisible’s excellent podcast on it changed this. On their article about the podcast, they feature Greg Girard’s wonderful photographs:

Greg Girard “Water Standpipe (Man Washing), 1989

More from where that came from here.

The article continues by featuring video footage of the Walled City. Here’s Jean-Claude Van Damme in an action movie there before it was torn down:

And they even managed to find a 40-minute German documentary (subtitled) about the City:

If you can get past the judgmental German overtones, they take us on through quite a thorough tour.

Aside from interviewing photographer Greg Girard, 99% Invisible also talks to architect Aaron Tan, who wrote a thesis on the Kowloon Walled City. Listen to the episode now.

Update: Check out an infographic of the city that the South China Morning Post commissioned. (Via Transpondster & Final Boss Form.)

2 rooftops, 2 farms, 2 cities

A Tale of Two Rooftops from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

A beautiful tale of two rooftop farms, one in Beijing and one in Hong Kong, and the people behind them.

Via This Big City.

Stats: The kinds of tech startups in HK

Last month, my friend Paul Orlando and I launched Startup Hug*, an experiment in cultivating an early adopter community here in Hong Kong. As part of the process, we evaluated over 130 local startup websites (the list came from Paul’s We Are HK Tech). One side product is that we categorized and annotated this list of 130.

While the data is still up to date, I wanted to share some of the statistics that we found – though do keep in mind the margin of error as this has been one night’s work:

HK startup types
Additional notes:

  • While games only made up 6% of the startups, they actually represent a relatively mature sector here.
  • I was surprised by the number of content startups, given the relative dearth of a reading-blogging culture locally.
  • Only 14% of startups offered (physical) goods, of which only a handful were genuine hardware startups. This seems low given Hong Kong’s proximity to Shenzhen and history of toy/clothing manufacturing.
  • 45 startups (35%) offered free (or freemium) products/services.
  • Productivity tools were nowhere to be found.
  • China-targeting startups were rare (probably less than 10%), which either speaks to the difficulty of doing that from Hong Kong or a lack of trying.

Want to find out more? See the four startups we chose to feature on Startup Hug or see the updated list of startups at We Are HK Tech.

* Disclaimer: Shameless plug.

Troll defaces luxury handbags on subway

According to this report from Apple Daily HK, there’s a real-life troll that’s been going around on the subway in Hong Kong defacing various strangers’ luxury handbags with a ball point pen.

Stats on the commerce of film in Hong Kong & China

Haexagon Concepts has just released their industry report on the film industries in Hong Kong & China. It’s a snappy, well-researched report, and tackles subjects ranging from advertising methods to the emergence of transmedia storytelling in these two regions.

An excerpt about Hong Kong’s advertising quagmire:

 “A major problem in HongKong is that there aren’t enoughadvertising platforms to makerates competitive. In Hong Kong,there are only two free-to-air television stations (broadband/cable television networks onlyreach about one million viewers,mainly relying on subscribers for their revenue) and two commercialradio networks (each networkoperates multiple stations). Inother words, the company thatcan afford to pay the most for ad space will dominate the city,making local productions buy upmore space to try and compete with bigger, foreign competition(hence inating budgets anddriving advertising prices up).”

An excerpt about China’s foreign film import limits:

As China becomes an increasingly lucrative market for films, foreign film companies will undoubtedly want a piece of the pie. However, as foreign films are still limited by the imported films quota (recently expanded after negotiations with America’s MPAA), foreign investors are now looking to doing co-productions with Chinese investors to get around the quota. In addition to most Hong Kong films of recent years, “The Expendables 2”, “Iron Man 3”, “Looper” and “The Karate Kid” are all examples of recent American-Chinese co-productions…

SARFT quickly picked up on this practice and vowed in August 2012 to strictly enforce co-production terms, demanding that films include Chinese locations, Chinese actors, and a story that “incorporates Chinese themes”. “Expendables 2” was the first casualty, having its co-production status removed despite a hefty investment by LeVision Pictures. “”Looper” was suddenly pulled from its release date with no official reason and abruptly returned to its original release date two days before it (The opening “dragon logo” stated that it is now classified as an imported film). The announcement even sent a shockwave among Hong Kong filmmakers, who had to go to Beijing for an emergency meeting with SARFT.

Read the full report over here.

Hong Kong Citizens’ Online, Memetic Protest

China Meme Report banner

Like pretty much anyone else paying attention to the story, I was stunned to see the images of protests in Hong Kong, with people of all ages donning black to rail against Beijing’s plan to enact national education.  Hong Kongers deemed it brainwashing, a paternalistic move from Beijing to inculcate the special territory into its ways.  The sheer scale of the protests led to Beijing agreeing not to mandate national education.

But while citizens took to the streets, they also took to the web.  “Brainwash” may have been blocked on Sina Weibo, but “wear black” wasn’t, nor was “oppose national education.”  And if you searched for these terms and others, you’d find images like this:

These are pretty normal scenes of protest, but they have a strong online component too:

And in addition to crossing arms, the simple act of wearing black has become a visual strategy in itself, as protesters have encouraged each other to wear black to oppose national education.

The graphic refers specifically to “brainwashing”.

But like any good meme, this one also has more comic/cartoonish manifestations.  Here are a few favorites:

“Oppose brainwashing”

As soon as I heard it, I knew the “wear black” strategy made some sense: like wearing blue jeans to support gay rights, wearing black is a normally-apolitical gesture imbued with new meaning that forces dialogue (Hong Kong-based designer See-Ming Lee suggested to me that it might resemble Disney Gay Day more). This is particularly true in fashionable Hong Kong, where the smart set prefer chic black, just like New Yorkers.  But the symbol and imagery of black continued to grow till it was a sea of black shirts and black pants.  Add to that the gesture of crossing one’s arms, and you have the perfect political meme: a simple, personal gesture with easy-to-find materials.  It works as much in grand gatherings as it does in casual snaps posted onto Weibo.

Faux subway stickers that show the role of graphic design in both offline and online world contexts. The red image on the right takes subway design vernacular and says “Be careful of brainwashing”. The blue/white image on the left says: “Beware of pickpocketing”. The “thief” is stealing the word “freedom.” Photo by Jason Li.

Online and Offline

The big question is, why such an online flurry?  In mainland China, the memetic spread of images of discontent/dissent makes sense: lacking the freer speech and public assembly opportunities of more democratic nations, citizens take to the internet to express their concerns.  Since both mainlanders and Hong Kong citizens use Sina Weibo, the culture of memes in the Chinese-speaking internet hops across political/regional boundaries.  This explains why I’ve seen the crossing arms gesture amongst users in the mainland, and why sunflower seeds, the symbol originating from a Beijing artist, also has resonance in Hong Kong.  In other words, the Chinese-speaking internet loves its memes.

But the broader point to understand here is that the “meme’ing” of protest/dissent reflects just how intertwined internet life and offline life have become.  While public assembly on the streets of the city is often crucial–just look at the sheer scale of the crowd–, so is public assembly on the streets of our online city.  And in the Chinese-speaking internet, the city of cities is Sina Weibo, where netizens gather at every hour of the day to converse, share and debate in a national public forum. As I explored in my recent look at the Trayvon Martin and Chen Guangcheng memes, the particular form of public assembly on the internet is much more visual and reliant on basic art and design skills.  This is how you show scale in an online environment–text alone is rarely enough–, and it’s a trend we’ve seen now in Hong Kong (Anti-Brainwash), Moscow (Pussy Riot), New York (Travyon Martin), Beijing (Ai Weiwei and Chen Guangcheng) and elsewhere.  As we see more protests involving the internet generation in the Chinese-speaking world and beyond, we should expect to see more and more of this.