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Living heritage of Hong Kong

‘King of Kowloon’ deserves better

The government needs to do more than just pay lip service to preserving the legend and works of the late Tsang Tsou-choi after a government contractor mistakenly painted over one of the few surviving pieces of his iconic graffiti

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 12:52am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 12:52am

Another artwork by the late Tsang Tsou-choi, known as the “King of Kowloon”, has regrettably been damaged. This came after a government contractor in charge of a park renovation project in Kwun Tong had mistakenly painted over his iconic graffiti, one of the few pieces left in the city. Now attempts to remedy the damage appear to have left the artwork even worse off.

But it has to be questioned if any remedy could undo the damage done to Tsang’s ink scribbling. As shown in our initial news report, the switch box with his calligraphy was covered by a fresh coat of sparkling white paint. While traces of his work were barely visible on the front of the switch box, they were also marred by new graffiti in the white paint.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department put the blame on the contractor, saying it had gone beyond the scope of the renovation and painted over the switch box by mistake. But the government is also to blame for not doing enough to protect Tsang’s calligraphy. Responding to concerns over the increasing loss of Tsang’s works across the city seven years ago, officials made assurances that departments would remind contractors or agents not to whitewash or remove the writing. But the message obviously did not get through in this particular case.

Hong Kong collector slams government over ruined work of graffiti artist ‘King of Kowloon’ Tsang Tsou-choi

The blunder might have been avoided had the government put up a signboard or notices drawing people’s attention to the cultural value of Tsang’s work. It is a pity that officials rejected installation of protective shields as infeasible, saying they would instead use pictures to archive the remaining works.

Tsang was a Hong Kong legend, not least because of his claim to be a rightful emperor of Kowloon. Walking in crutches in his twilight years, the mentally-ill man left his imprint on switch boxes, lamp posts and concrete slopes across the city. Whether Tsang’s scribbling is art or not may still be open to debate. But his works have certainly become part of the city’s heritage, inspiring fashion designs and even being auctioned. The government needs to do more than just pay lip service to preserving his legend.