Around a dozen independent Lunar New Year fairs have sprung up across Hong Kong over the past week in support of the city’s ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations, local reports revealed this week.
The fairs are reportedly selling protest-themed new year gifts to raise money for human rights groups and improve morale among supporters.
Lunar New Year fairs take place every year in the run-up to that holiday, which begins on Saturday, initiating the Year of the Rat. The fairs usually stock standard products such as flowers, fruits, confectionery, and other traditional gifts.
In the past, local political parties and causes often used the opportunity to set up stalls and raise awareness of their cause. Yet this year, Hong Kong authorities banned political activity at all official Lunar Fairs claiming that it was in the interest of public safety because of ongoing protests.
In response to the crackdown, around a dozen independent fairs have been set up across the city, selling pro-democracy themed merchandise aimed at raising money for the cause. The fairs are also promoting what is referred to as the “yellow economic circle,” which means spending in ways consistent with one’s political values.
The tactic appears to be working, with photos from this weekend showing low attendance at one of the official markets and crowds of people at a fair in the city’s Sai Ying Pun district.
— Mari Saito (@saitomri) January 18, 2020
The fairs appear to have been so successful that they have upset the city’s Beijing-allied authorities. On Tuesday, the South China Morning Post reported that authorities “demolished” a number of stalls run by the League of Social Democrats after they refused to remove political displays mocking Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam and Chinese dictator Xi Jinping.
The decision to demolish the stalls was made by Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which terminated the group’s licensing agreement on grounds that it had been violated.
“We asked the department if there was any way we may cooperate, but they said the license had already been terminated,” said Avery Ng Man-yuen, the league’s chairman. “Everything in the cordoned area is already government property.”
Checked out this marketplace today, which is on its 2nd day. It’s not exactly a protest-related lunar new year fair, but it hosts booths by a lot of local illustrators that have contributed to protest artworks. E.g, this poster, is done by @HeungShinghk who did star-wars flyers. pic.twitter.com/bcZQ8hOh3a
— Rachel Cheung (@rachel_cheung1) January 21, 2020
A fair at a public housing complex in Kwan Chung district was called off entirely after the local Housing Authority revoked its license three days before its opening, co-organizer Janis Fan told AFP.
According to Fan, the decision was made shortly after former China allied councilors who lost their seats in last November’s local elections criticized the fair organizers for “instigating strong political ideologies within communities.”
“One day after we were singled out and criticized, the authority revoked its approvals,” Fan told the agency.
Political tensions in Hong Kong are currently at an all-time high amid the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations, which still take place on a regular basis. The protests began last year in response to a proposed extradition bill by Hong Kong’s pro-China CEO Carrie Lam that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial.
The movement has since morphed into a wider resistance against China’s interference in the region’s internal affairs, undermining the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement signed with the British Empire following its handover in 1997. Protest leaders have laid out a series of demands, including an investigation into police brutality, the release of all political prisoners, and reforms to their voting system that would allow them to directly elect their leader.