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The new-look notes capture the essence of the elaborate stage shows. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Cantonese opera features on new HK$100 banknotes launched by HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China (Hong Kong) on Tuesday

  • Hong Kong’s note-issuing banks launch banknotes featuring designs that evoke the spirit of the ancient performing art
  • Images include a princess in a Chinese wedding gown with her new husband and young lovers in a garden

The time-honoured traditions of Cantonese opera form the backdrop of a brand new set of HK$100 notes to be launched in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

The city’s note-issuing banks, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China (Hong Kong), have come up with their own designs to capture the spirit of the hugely popular ancient art form on the new-look banknotes.

The notes, available at bank branches from Tuesday, bear characters and scenes evoking the celebrated musical stage shows, including a princess in a Chinese wedding gown and young lovers in a garden.

Bank of China (Hong Kong)’s design features a single beautiful young lady in traditional opera costume. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
They are the latest in a series of themed banknotes that started last year that has included a HK$1,000 banknote celebrating Hong Kong as a smart international financial centre, and a HK$500 note issued in the Lunar New Year featuring natural scenery.

“Among the current series of banknote designs, I particularly like the HK$100 banknote because it features the Cantonese opera, which is a very traditional Hong Kong culture and popular performing art,” said Norman Chan Tak-lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

In Hong Kong, it is the de facto central bank that decides security features of paper currency, but the three note-issuing banks came up with the designs.

Chan hosted a launch ceremony for the new HK$100 banknotes, attended by the chief executives of the three lenders, at the Xiqu Centre in West Kowloon Centre. It featured a 20-minute live performance of Cantonese opera by local young artists.

Romance featured heavily in the designs of the new banknotes.

HSBC’s note shows a couple of young lovers meeting in a Chinese garden, while Standard Chartered opted for a princess in a Chinese wedding gown with her new husband. BOCHK kept it simple, with a single beautiful young lady in traditional opera costume.

“Love stories are an important theme of many Cantonese operas, which is why we chose the young lovers as our theme,” said Diana Cesar, chief executive of the Hong Kong office of HSBC, at the ceremony.

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“Cantonese opera continues to thrive in Hong Kong, attracting young people to learn and appreciate the art. This theme, beautifully captured in watercolour before being converted into engravings, expresses HSBC’s connection with the Hong Kong community and our shared heritage.”

Standard Chartered’s princess and husband are based on two young Hong Kong artists, according to Mary Huen Wai-yi, the bank’s local chief executive.

“We want to show the spirit of the young artists. The show must go on, and we need young artists to continue the show,” said Huen.

BOCHK chose to focus on a single young lady as it wanted to show her beauty, said Yu Xin, senior art director of China Banknote Printing & Minting Corporation, who designed many of the bank’s themed notes.

The designer said the current banknotes have more security features than the ones in 2010.

To celebrate its new HK$100 note, HSBC is launching an augmented reality filter in which the user’s “selfie” photo taken on a smartphone is turned into a Cantonese Opera character.

Cantonese opera was listed as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by Unesco in 2009.

“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Unesco inscription of Cantonese opera, making the launch of this banknote all the more meaningful,” said Gao Yingxin, vice-chairman and chief executive of BOCHK.

Forthcoming themes in the banknote series include butterflies which will adorn the HK$50 note and yam-cha – the tea and dim sum culture – that will appear on the HK$20. Both are due to be launched in early 2020.