Letter of the law: Royal insignia on postboxes are an essential part of Hong Kong's history
Hongkong Post's plan to cover up the royal insignia on Hong Kong's vintage postboxes has stirred up wide concern in town.
It was reportedly a decision made by the postmaster general. However, the reasons given, such as that the insignia are not appropriate or that some people have failed to recognise them as serving postboxes, are far from convincing.
Among the 59 serving postboxes - the oldest one bearing the royal cipher GRV, marking that it was produced during the reign of King George V - has been serving Hong Kong for over 130 years. There are in total eight in-service GRV or GRVI postboxes. One, manufactured when Queen Victoria (VR) reigned, has been retired and is now an exhibit in the Central Post Office.
It made complete sense the postboxes carried royal insignia under British rule. After the establishment of the special administrative region, the royal ciphers may serve a function somewhat like Chinese porcelain marks - they are antiquities and essential parts of history.
The vintage postboxes also mark the beginning, and development of, Hong Kong's postal service.
These postboxes are locally produced and unique. They are still located on ordinary streets, on corners, outside a park or right next to a bus stop. They are close to the common people and part of our daily lives. They are history palpable. Any cover-up would only cause damage to the integrity of the antiques, diminishing both their historical and aesthetic values.
In fact, as disclosed in the Newsletter on Revitalisation of the Commissioner for Heritage's Office in June 2010, Hongkong Post was in discussion with the Heritage Commission on the preservation of the nine oldest vintage postboxes. It was also reported that the Antiquities and Monuments Office had a preference for an in-service, in-situ preservation policy.
Given this, Hongkong Post's decision to cover up all royal insignia, including those on the nine specifically mentioned, comes as a shock.
It is also surprising to learn that Hong Kong's unique vintage postboxes are not covered by the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. Browsing the website of the Antiquities and Monuments Office, not a single vintage postbox is assessed, declared or listed.
A big question remains: what has caused the change in policy and priorities?
If British royal emblem is to be covered up or removed, for whatever reason, then there is a further doubt. The biggest surviving royal emblem is actually in the pediment above the entrance of the Court of Final Appeal building.
Simon TM Ng is an assistant professor and senior programme director of law at the School of Professional and Continuing Education, University of Hong Kong