Roaring return for iconic guardians

Top News | Wallis Wang 23 Oct 2020

The two bronze lions at the HSBC headquarters have been restored and unveiled after they were vandalized and lit during a protest on New Year's Day.

Among Central's most famous landmarks, the pair called Stephen and Stitt were welcomed back with a ceremony yesterday.

After boards surrounding them were removed, feng shui master David Lung King-chuen dotted their eyes in a ritual for good fortune.

Lung also offered a blessing to the two guardians by holding burning incense sticks around their face and wiping their bodies with a red cloth.

"Stephen and Stitt have watched over the HSBC main building for 85 years. Through good times and bad, they have been an enduring part of Hong Kong's story," said Peter Wong Tung-shun, deputy chairman and chief executive of HSBC Asia-Pacific.

"Many customers, employees, and the general public told us how much they missed the lions, so we decided to put them back on display following the first phase of restoration.

"When the work is complete, they will look as impressive as ever."

The bank said the full restoration of the statues is delayed as restoration experts could not travel to Hong Kong due to the pandemic. It added that further restoration work and maintenance will continue in the future.

Some people went to the bank's headquarters to take selfies with the two lions.

"I think most Hongkongers felt heartbroken when the lions were vandalized, but we are now happy that they have been restored," one of those who came said.

"In my opinion, [the bank] is a representation of Hong Kong. I don't understand why some people wanted to destroy it."

The two lions were named after the bank's former managers, Alexander Stephen and Gordon Stitt. They have guarded the bank's entrance on Des Voeux Road since 1935. In January, the lions were sprayed with red paint and set on fire as protesters vented their fury at the British banking group.

They blamed the bank for the closure of an account used to raise funds for Spark Alliance - a group which provided legal and medical services to protesters. More than HK$70 million in the account was later frozen by police, with four members of the alliance arrested for money laundering. Some people believed the vandalization of the lions affected HSBC's fortune as the bank's share price sank to a 25-year low last month.

Meanwhile, Chinese ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, tagged HSBC in a tweet that said there are opportunities for overseas enterprises. The gesture is seen as a sign of warming relations between China and the bank.

"China is continuing to promote reform and opening up and strives to create a better business environment which will create more opportunities for international businesses, including HSBC," Liu tweeted.

He followed up a report by state-backed media Global Times highlighting HSBC chairman Mark Tucker's speech during a video conference between Shanghai officials and international business leaders, saying the bank would like to expand its business in China.

But the bank's British branch is not doing so well amid reports it is sacking 300 people to reduce costs.

A spokesman for HSBC said the layoffs were part of a restructuring plan announced in February.

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