Tourism sculpture a ‘nuisance’ for players of popular Hong Kong shuttlecock game
New artwork on historical trail not welcomed by some residents and building owners, who say they were not consulted on government plans
A newly revamped historical trail in Hong Kong to commemorate the founding father of modern China has touched off a controversy, with locals accusing the government of pitting tourism against residents’ interests.
The revitalisation of the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail in Mid-Levels and Sheung Wan was completed last Thursday. The project replaced 15 plaques with modern artworks by nine local artists on the trail, commemorating places Sun used to frequent.
The HK$9 million (US$1.1 million) project is part of the government’s effort to further promote the district, already a tourist hotspot, as a heritage attraction. But the location of one artwork has upset some locals, who complained that officials never asked them about putting the piece in their neighbourhood.
The five-metre-tall sculpture of five lines zigzagging upwards is placed in the middle of a small square below Shin Hing Street near Sheung Wan, which is the only open space in the surrounding three blocks.
Residents said the sculpture had obstructed them from playing their favourite sport there.
Some also worried the sculpture would attract flocks of tourists, disrupting the otherwise quaint and quiet neighbourhood.
“Nobody wants their street to be turned into a tourist trap,” said Syren Johnstone, chairman of a group of incorporated owners in a residential building along the street. “Why don’t you just consult and engage ... and then maybe everybody can get on board with it?”
For more than two decades those who work in the old printing and cardboard box-making shops around the street have spent most of their lunch breaks kicking shuttlecock in the square. The game involves a ring of players who take turns to use their feet to keep a shuttlecock in the air.
Over the years they have become small-time neighbourhood celebrities. A design firm called Three Dogs was so inspired by them that it made shuttlecock souvenirs for clients.
But with the sculpture now in the middle of the square, regulars cannot play as freely as they used to, as it obstructs the game.
“It’s quite a nuisance,” said Fung Chi-shing, in his 50s, whose Ngai Sang box-making shop has been operating in the area since the mid-1980s. Fung, who also lives on Shin Hing Street, said he would sometimes join the lunchtime game.
“There are just too many sculptures in this area and they get in your way. I’d rather have an unobstructed open space to move around.”
Fung said he never noticed any public engagement on the project. Johnstone also said he had not seen any posters inviting residents for consultation sessions.
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Fung added that the old neighbourhood’s charm was in its traditional Hong Kong lifestyle, and going out of the way to create new attractions would be counterproductive.
“It would be best to leave this place alone,” he said. “The more money you throw in for extra stuff, the sillier the place will become.”
K Lo, a 20-something designer working nearby, just joined the shuttlecock gathering about a month ago. She questioned whether the chosen location for the sculpture was historically accurate.
The sculpture is to commemorate Yeung Yiu Kee, a shop where Sun used to discuss his revolutionary cause with three close friends. The shop stood at 8 Gough Street, about a minute’s walk from the sculpture. The site is now a seven-storey building with a cafe on the ground floor.
The memorial plaque, which the sculpture replaced, was nearer to the original site, at 24 Gough Street next to a famous open-air Chinese restaurant.
A spokeswoman for the Home Affairs Department said its Central and Western District Office had met stakeholders such as school heads and chairmen of building owners’ corporations near the artwork, held a briefing session, and issued newsletters to all residents in the area.
She said the relocation of the memorial spot was to “bring artwork closer to the community”, adding that the office and the Tourism Council could not find other suitable locations “due to site constraints such as encroachment on underground utilities”.
“[The office] will work with [other departments] to address the concerns of the community,” she said.
District councillor Stephen Chan Chit-kwai said the government had discussed the trail with the local council last year, but it did not tell members the detailed locations of the artworks.
The sculpture’s creator, artist Kacey Wong, said he apologised if his work had caused inconvenience to the neighbourhood. But he said he did not participate in deciding on the piece’s location. Wong added that some residents had told him they welcomed the sculpture.