Suitable children in short supply for floats

Festival organisers had trouble finding enough children for this year's floats because of low birth rates and modern parents' tendency to spoil children, according to co-ordinators.

The scarcity of children able to take part or whose parents are willing to let them might cause a decline in the art form, they said.

Lee Kin-din, chairman of the Pak She Street Association, said finding children as young as five to parade for one afternoon during the bun festival was hard even with lai see of as much as $1,000 each.

'In the past children weren't treated as precious as [they are] today. Nowadays parents don't like letting children suffer, and some parents didn't like their children playing certain roles,' said Mr Lee.

This year his association had three sets of floats featuring six children dressed as characters from Chinese folklore. 'We need children who weigh 30 to 40 pounds' said Mr Lee. 'But the low birth rate means we have less of a range to select from, meaning some characters will never appear again.

'For example, in the 1960s we had a set of floats on the theme of police seizing drug traffickers. We found a skinny, sick-looking child to play the role of a drug addict. How can you find a child who looks like this today?'

The floats originated on the mainland and were brought to Hong Kong for festive events. They have been a highlight of the bun festival since the 1920s.

The cost of preparing one set of floats is about $10,000.

A set of floats has two children, one standing at the bottom and the other one 'floating' on top supported by a metal frame with traditional Chinese decorative objects.

Some Cheung Chau parents said yesterday they would encourage their children to participate in future floating parades, as they believe it is an honour to be chosen.

Ng Ka-lam felt it was fun rather than tough to ride a float. 'I don't find it harsh because I feel I look very pretty,' Ka-lam said.