Fair play to greet Year of the Rat means no poking fun

Top News | Sophie Hui 8 Nov 2019

Lunar new year fairs will be blooming as usual, but they are to lose some vibrant accompaniments because authorities have banned stalls from selling political and satirical merchandise.

Public safety concerns were cited as the reason for the action.

The popular fair is usually awash with quirky goods, ranging from lucky windmills to stuffed animals. Many of the items poke fun at political leaders and carry topical slogans.

So the January fairs will be all flowers and food and not much else.

The blank looks also mean base bidding levels for stalls will be slashed by half: from HK$320 to HK$5,440 for wet goods stalls and from HK$3,810 to HK$187,430 for fast food stalls.

The fairs will be held from January 19 to 25 at 15 locations, with the biggest by far at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.

There will be 1,284 wet goods stalls and 18 fast-food stalls going up for auction on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Lunar new year fairs in the past have all along been crowded, including with elderly people and children," remarked a spokesman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

"In view of the current social situation the government - as the venue management and event organizer - has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the stall owners and members of the public."

Stalls will also be bigger to help in the selling of flowers and more effective crowd control measures, the spokesman added.

But that could be the best of the situation. For the government is not ruling out the possibility of fairs being suspended or canceled.

"The government has made its best efforts to enable the lunar new year fairs to be held as far as practicable," the spokesman said.

Some vendors and political parties that have rented stalls at previous fairs are unhappy about how they will be greeting the Year of the Rat.

Democratic Party legislator Lam Cheuk-ting said the decision to restrict stalls is "ridiculous and wrong."

He added: "Even in years with political tensions - like protests at the Democratic Party's stall on constitutional reform - order was still maintained.

"I can't see any reason for banning [certain types] of stalls]. It will also affect other vendors who are running small businesses at the fairs."

A vendor who has been selling traditional snacks linked to dry good stalls for over 10 years said she has been making preparations that include spending tens of thousands of dollars to purchase ingredients.

"The government's decision means I'll lose my shirt," she said. "It's a disappointing announcement. And in the current social environment I don't think the arrangement will prevent conflicts."

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