A Hong Kong children’s clothing chain at the centre of a political row over its decision to display a statue honouring anti-government protesters has vowed it will not remove it, despite mall management ordering it to do so.
Chickeeduck founder Herbert Chow Siu-lung has also denied his decision to place the statue at a Tsuen Wan store location, which first drew public attention on Wednesday, was a stunt or put him in breach of his tenancy agreement.
As of Thursday afternoon, the operator of the mall, a shopping centre management company that is part of the New World conglomerate, had taken no further action against the retailer.
I welcome people of different political opinions to buy from me. I don’t have a censoring process as to who can wear my stuff. I can’t tell who is blue or yellow
Chickeeduck founder Herbert Chow
“I support democracy for sure,” Chow told the Post. “I thought it was quite a nice art piece. It will be a meaningful in-store display and that’s how it all started. For me, it’s how I would all love it to end, but instead, it’s been blown all out of proportion.
“The artist has given us two months to play with it and move it from store to store and see which landlords will embrace it. Then we’ll go to the next mall.”
The statue was an attempt to do something different for the upcoming Father’s Day weekend, Chow explained. “We’ve never had the same complaint putting up Easter eggs or a Christmas tree … I guess this really is a concern for the landlord, who I have yet to meet.”
The mid-sized Hong Kong retailer’s Tsuen Wan shop drew customers in droves, many of whom turned up in support of the display.
It also drew the ire of others, including former city leader Leung Chun-ying, who recently criticised HSBC for not expressing public support for the national security bill. The London-headquartered bank did eventually do just that.
The statue, versions of which have been seen elsewhere, depicts a protester in a gas mask and helmet holding an umbrella in one hand and a black flag in the other bearing the anti-government slogan: “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”.
The Chickeeduck founder declined to say if the store was aligned with the so-called yellow economy, a campaign designed to drive dollars to stores that have publicly expressed sympathy with the protester movement, saying he welcomed all shoppers, regardless of political affiliation.
“Do I consider myself a yellow store? I welcome people of different political opinions to buy from me. I don’t have a censoring process as to who can wear my stuff. I can’t tell who is blue or yellow,” he said, adding: “I can tell they support the idea, they love the display.”
While numerous small Hong Kong companies have embraced the yellow economy, big corporations and firms led by tycoons with business interests in mainland China have avoided doing so.
Chow said the Tsuen Wan store, which ranked as low as 10th among the company’s 13 outlets in terms of revenue, saw sales jump by a factor of 15 in reaction to the statue, making it the company’s best-performing store.
“That wasn’t the intention, because it was built up for the weekend, but you can see how people embrace democracy, because of all the hoopla generated [by the statue],” he said.
Chow said the letter he received from mall operator Discovery Park Commercial Services was leaked online hours before he was officially notified on Wednesday afternoon, and that he was still seeking a meeting with the landlord to clarify the letter.
In its letter to Chickeeduck, the mall operator said the retailer should “ensure that the decoration of the premises is at all times maintained to a standard appropriate to a first-class shopping centre and to the satisfaction of the landlord”.
Justin Chow, 30, travelled from his home in Ma On Shan in the eastern New Territories to Tsuen Wan on Thursday before going to his job at a tutoring centre to show his support for the store.
“The store is one of the businesses that have the courage to clearly state their political stance. It deserves support and encouragement,” he said. “Many businesses have said they are ‘yellow’, but not all of them have the courage to do the same.”
A supporter of the protests that erupted last June over the now-withdrawn extradition bill, Chow suspected the mall’s real reasons for demanding the statue come down were political.
“Every business has its freedom to show its stance. We should support that,” he said.
He added that while he did not have children, he would shop for his relatives’ kids as a way of showing support.
W.C. Chan, 50, was among the many passers-by who stopped at the store to take photos. He said he decided to visit after learning about the statue on Wednesday night, and was posting photos on his social media accounts to let friends and others know about it.
“If I had toddlers, I would definitely shop here,” he said.
Chan said he also believed politics played a role behind the mall’s decision. “When you lease the place to the business, the business should have the freedom to do with it [what it wants],” he said. “Is it going too far to suppress that?
“Hongkongers want democracy and freedom. That’s what we have been fighting for. But there has been injustice in society. I hope the store owner can persevere through the worst of it.”
A woman in her 50s, who asked to be identified as Chan, bought three pieces of children’s clothing at the store for a friend’s two-month-old baby. She said she had shopped at the store previously, and would continue doing so, citing both the quality of the products and the owner’s support for democracy.
“It is a peaceful expression of voices, and we support it peacefully as well by consumption,” she said.
Chan, who said she routinely shopped at “yellow” businesses, said that while she understood the mall faced pressure, it should not intervene.
Rebel City: Hong Kong’s Year of Water and Fire is a new book of essays that chronicles the political confrontation that has gripped the city since June 2019. Edited by the South China Morning Post's Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam, the book draws on work from the Post's newsrooms across Hong Kong, Beijing, Washington and Singapore, with unmatched insights into all sides of the conflict. Buy directly from SCMP today and get a 15% discount (regular price HKD$198). It is available at major bookshops worldwide or online through Amazon, Kobo, Google Books, and eBooks.com.
More from South China Morning Post:
- National security law: Hong Kong activists hope to get 60,000 labour union members to vote on strike
- Hong Kong schools told to play national anthem during celebrations for important dates, consider police action if serious violations occur
This article Hong Kong kids’ clothing chain Chickeeduck will not remove protester statue from store, founder says first appeared on South China Morning Post