Tag Archives: Hong Kong


霓虹的製作 The Making of Neon Signs

Who knew that neon lights (powered by neon gas, not LEDs) were such an artisan’s craft?

More details about this preservation and exhibition project here.

How the Umbrella ‘Revolution’ meme hurt the movement in Hong Kong

HKClassBoycottSelfies

 

The ongoing protests for democracy in Hong Kong have been dubbed by many as the “Umbrella Revolution.” But days before the term was created, the dominant internet meme supporting the protests was built around student selfies accompanied by hashtags #HKClassBoycott and #HKStudentStrike. This was in line with what was then a students-only protest. Supporters participated by finding a photo of themselves as a child, often in their student uniform, and posting a picture of it to Instagram and Facebook. Some participants chose to decorate their photos with a yellow ribbon for democracy as well.

“Umbrella Revolution” only appeared in the media after local police forces unleashed a barrage of tear gas and pepper spray on protesters last Sunday. Unarmed citizens defended themselves with nothing but surgical face masks, science-class goggles and ordinary umbrellas. Shortly after the clash, stunning photos of protesters holding up their umbrellas amidst a sea of tear gas spread like wildfire across the internet and the term “Umbrella Revolution” was coined.

Unfortunately, the word “revolution” has extremist connotations that do not help but hinder the protest. To begin with, calling it a revolution is simply inaccurate: people are asking not for overthrow of the Hong Kong government, or of China, but for a more representative government. To add to that, CUHK Professor Wong Hung believes that it gives Beijing the wrong idea and encourages them to crack down on the protesters. Pro-establishment politicians Tam Yiu-chung and Robert Chow have also used the term on TV and in interviews to paint a stereotype of out-of-touch, extremist protesters. In that way, while the visual imagery of the Umbrella Revolution is uplifting for most people, its name has sparked unnecessary controversy and internet memes are to blame.

After the events of Sunday when non-students also joined the fray, the umbrella very quickly became the dominant visual. By the time I woke up Monday morning, the press, led by the BBC, had already cemented the popularity of #UmbrellaRevolution as the dominant hashtag, and the internet memes followed.

 

UMHKhashtags1

 

During this time, the term “revolution” was met with some on-the-ground resistance. Given the lack of survey data, I only have anecdotal evidence to support this claim:

 

 

To be perfectly clear, #OccupyCentral was and remains the most popular hashtag. But it doesn’t lend itself to a visual treatment the way #UmbrellaRevolution did. Additionally, #UmbrellaMovement itself never took off, at least in English.

 

UMHKimages

 

Because the umbrella is such an easily drawn, easily shared visual symbol, it quickly made its way across the internet. People who could not make it to the protest, whether if it was because they were abroad or had to stay home to take care of kids, phoned in with illustrations of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution.”

 

UMHKhashtags2 

 

During the earlier part of the week, my colleagues and I at The Civic Beat collected over a hundred umbrella memes before giving up after we realized that hundreds more were to come from a widely-shared Facebook design competition, a Facebook group and at least one Tumblr devoted to the same task. My theory is that these umbrella images became so popular on the internet that they made their way into the protest itself. Most protesters were constantly on their cell phones and, despite rumors, the internet connection was never cut during the protest. So it’s easy to see how symbols and messages on the internet might have influenced what protesters thought.

 

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Unfortunately, the “revolution” moniker also made its way into many umbrella images, as if imposed from above. Protesters may have also noticed that the international press paid attention to the “Umbrella Revolution,” and borrowed the term to spread the word further.

 

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This is where internet memes and foreign media headlines of the “Umbrella Revolution” (currently the cover of Time in Asia) clashed with the interests of many protesters, including that of the leading organizations:

 

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Internet memes and the foreign press may be at fault for coining the “revolution” moniker, but they have also been instrumental in making the movement as successful as it is now. Early on in the protests, internet memes helped build public awareness by allowing people to silently show their support by posting an image or changing their profile picture. (Many profile pictures on Facebook have become variations of the yellow ribbon for democracy.) The foreign press plays an even bigger role, in both creating avenues for public debate as well as fulfilling their role as a watchdog for malpractice. So while the internet public and foreign press have been overwhelmingly-positive influences, it’s also due time for them to reflect on the power they wield.

Edited by Graham Webster and Ada O’Higgins.

Anti-shanzhai memes, copycat gamemakers and Korean popstars

Left: Puzzle & Dragons. Right: Tower of Saviors. Image sources: AppAdvice, USGamer.

Left: Puzzle & Dragons, made in Japan in 2012. Right: Tower of Saviors, made in Hong Kong in 2013. (Image sources: AppAdvice, USGamer.)

This month, South Korean boy band sensation Big Bang arrives in Hong Kong as the newly-minted spokesperson for the local smartphone game, Tower of Saviors (pictured above… on the right). The city is abuzz with the news as Big Bang is extremely popular in Hong Kong and as advertisements are being plastered all over our subway system:

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By all accounts, business is good for the makers of Tower of Saviors. Last October, Tech In Asia reported that the smartphone game had passed the 7 million download mark with an average revenue per paying user of US$40. And in March, Pocket Gamer reported that China game publisher Forgame paid over US$ 90 million for a 21% stake in their parent company.

But behind the commercial success is a mob of really, really angry netizens; they believe that Tower of Saviors is a shameless clone of Puzzle & Dragons. In case the image at the top of this article isn’t clear enough, EVCHK has three more examples of the similarities between Japan’s Puzzle & Dragons and Hong Kong’s Tower of Saviors.

 

Let the anti-shanzhai memes begin

If there’s anything I’ve learned from studying memes over the past few years, it’s the more inventive and humorous the meme, the more powerful it is. And the above song is not only funny, but immaculately produced. The first two lines of the song say:

Shanzhai, shanzhai, why are so many people buying
Be loud, copy quickly, then you can sell big

There are also image memes featuring the founder of the parent company:

Uploaded by Neerhtac to EVCHK.

Translation: “Success depends on shanzhai.” (Uploaded by Neerhtac to EVCHK.)

And if that’s not enough, a parody app called Toilet of Plagiarists:

Screenshots of "Toilet of Plagiarists" from the Google Play Store.

Screenshots of “Toilet of Plagiarists” from the Google Play Store.

 

Netizens make a politician take back his words (and quote Bruce Lee)

During the early rise of Tower of Saviors just over a year ago, Hong Kong legislative councilor Charles Mok was caught lauding its creators in Sky Post for their “work hard play hard” attitude and seizing the opportunity of Puzzle & Dragons’ not releasing a non-Japanese version. Two days later, Charles wrote a lengthy retraction in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, citing Facebook commenters who had pointed out the fallacies of his earlier article; including one who even went as far as to “unfriend” him in anger.

But within these two days, Charles had done his homework. First, there are over 20 Puzzle & Dragons clones, which makes the Tower of Saviors unremarkable in its mimicry. (Though it did disturb him that he publicly supported copycats.) Then, he found out that the Tower of Saviors creators were previously involved with Pencake, a Facebook app company that was banned from Facebook for its unscrupulous business practices.

Charles then quips: “如果不是初犯,就是誠信問題了.” (Translation: if it is not the first offense, then it’s a problem of honesty.)

And he audaciously ends the article with a Bruce Lee quote, “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” And adds, “I’ve admitted it, will Madhead [the Tower of Saviors parent company]?”

 

The reality of global apathy and legal challenges

Upright politicians and diehard netizens aside, most people actually don’t care. One of the most common questions asked about the topic is simply: which game is better? And Puzzle & Dragons lost points early by only being released in the US and Japan app stores, which insulted gamers and pushed them into the arms of its clones.

Unfortunately, cloning games is not an uncommon practice; casual gamers are pretty forgiving about it. One recent example was for the breakthrough puzzle game, Threes, which was created in the US; then promptly cloned as 1024 in Beijing; which was in turn cloned and open sourced as 2048 in Italy – much to the dismay of its original creators who had labored on it for over a year.

Giant Bomb compares 1024 with 2048 with Threes.

Giant Bomb compares 1024 with 2048 with Threes.

One of the major underlying problems is that there’s no clear or easy way to “copyright” a game (though it is possible to throw money at the problem in the form of flimsy software patents). As such, it’s usually technically not illegal to clone and sell a game.

 

The future: cloning games is big business

Only time will tell whether Puzzle & Dragons and Towers of Saviors will succeed over the other, flop entirely as a fad or co-exist in the marketplace. It’s possible that the original’s design will remain superior and “crush” its clones. But it’s also possible that the clone’s significant marketing budget (Korean pop stars, etc.) will allow them to buy out entire markets.

What is already happening is that another Hong Kong-based game publisher, 6waves, is under fire for cloning smartphone games. It’s already lost its case once, and it’s slated to appear in court in San Francisco for another batch of products. Will Tower of Saviors follow a similar fate in the courts one day?

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

SupportHK

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

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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

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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.

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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.