Hong Kong's Lunar New Year fairs will be all flowers and food next year, after the government announced on Thursday that there can be no stalls selling the traditional political and satirical merchandise "in view of the current social situation".
The fairs are usually awash with all manner of quirky goods, from lucky windmills to stuffed animals, poking fun at political leaders and carrying topical slogans.
With massive crowds of visitors, the fairs also serve as an opportunity for political groups to raise funds, while providing a platform for creative types to show off their latest – and sometimes highly provocative – work.
But officials cited overcrowding problems and the city's ongoing unrest as they announced that 2020 will see 731 fewer stalls compared to this year, and these will be limited to selling flowers – and maybe snacks too, if there's any space.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) said auctions for a total of 1,284 stalls and 18 fast food booths at 15 fairs will begin next Tuesday, with the opening prices half those set for this year "in the face of an economic downturn". The prices will range from HK$320 to $5,440 for flower stalls and HK$3,810 to HK$187,430 for fast food stalls.
"LNY fairs in the past had all along been crowded with people, including elderly people and children. In view of the current social situation, the government, as the venue management and event organiser, has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the stall owners and visiting members of the public," an FEHD spokesman said.
"To safeguard public safety and public order, and to implement crowd control measures more effectively, the FEHD will enlarge the sizes of the 2020 LNY fair stalls to cater for the operational needs of sale of flowers. Public access will also be widened to alleviate the crowding situation. Since the total number of stalls has been reduced, only wet goods stalls for selling flowers will be provided. If circumstances at the venues permit, fast food stalls will also be provided."
Pig-themed products were popular at the fairs last January and February – this being the Year of the Pig. But some pro-democracy groups claimed they were struggling to get manufacturers to produce the merchandise they had designed, accusing the authorities of censoring goods.
Next year could have been a good opportunity to shift any left over stock from a few years ago, when police warning flags and items resembling tear gas cannisters appeared for the first time following the 2014 Occupy movement.
Satire, politics stripped from Lunar New Year fairs
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