June 4th protests

If Hong Kong is the ‘City of Protests’, this man is its mayor

Meet ‘Bull’ Tsang Kin-shing, creator of iconic demonstration props, including his classic cardboard ‘Tiananmen’ tank and last year’s giant white elephant

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 2:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 11:26am

In 1990, a year after the Tiananmen crackdown, construction worker Tsang Kin-shing turned two bicycles and a few planks into a makeshift tank, the shameful symbol of Beijing’s bloody suppression of students calling for democracy.

He even installed a fire extinguisher inside the model to act as a cannon that puffed out bursts of smoke. Tsang and his “tank” drew a lot of attention as they moved from North Point to Xinhua’s headquarters in Happy Valley – China’s then de facto embassy in Hong Kong – with his fellow protesters.

The now 61-year-old activist is one of the leading pioneers in introducing creative props to the protest movement in Hong Kong, often dubbed the “City of Protests”.

“A prop to me is a single panel of a comic book,” Tsang, of the League of Social Democrats, told the Post ahead of the 28th anniversary of the crackdown.

“It can clearly reflect what the protesters are calling for in one go ... Sometimes it changes how people look at the issue.”

Watch: Meet Tsang Kin-shing, creator of protest props

The Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 1989 was the turning point of Tsang’s life, as the tragedy prompted him to devote himself to the city’s fight for democracy.

“I joined the civil movement in 1989. Back then a lot of my allies were from what was called academia – they liked to write long letters and articles to express their thoughts,” Tsang, affectionately called “The Bull”, recalled. “But I always had offbeat ideas.”

After his classic moving tank, Tsang went on to make countless props for different demonstrations – big and small – which have appeared on newspaper front pages over the years.

In 2003, he carved the faces of the beleaguered then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung and security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee out of styrofoam for the July 1 protest, during which over 500,000 Hongkongers took to the streets to oppose proposed national security legislation.

That year, Leung resigned as finance chief after it was revealed he had bought a luxury Lexus car ahead of announcing tax increases on new vehicles in the budget.

Ip and Tung would also resign after the bill setting out various national security offences was shelved.

For the New Year’s Day rally of 2016, Tsang produced a giant cardboard elephant to protest against the building of “white elephant” projects which he said included the express rail link to Guangzhou.

But one of his proudest achievements over the years was his idea for party colleague “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung to bring a helium balloon to the Legislative Council chamber in 2011.

The radical lawmaker caught everybody off guard by releasing the balloon carrying a banner condemning business-government collusion during then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s policy address. No one could stop the balloon floating straight to the chamber’s ceiling.

“I have been thinking of new ways to challenge the authorities for the last 20 years,” Tsang said.

During this time, the prop maker has also witnessed the ups and downs of the democracy movement.

In 2012, he was invited by a number of university student unions to teach them how to make tanks with cardboard ahead of events marking the June 4 crackdown. But in recent years, a growing number of young people have turned their backs on such events, arguing they should not help fight for democracy in China.

Tsang is not deterred.

“It is natural for the movement to ebb and flow over time,” he said. “But I am sure the protests will not stop. They are the result of government oppression.”