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The new banknotes were unveiled at a press conference on Tuesday. Photo: Sam Tsang

New Hong Kong banknotes to thwart counterfeiters … and promote Cantonese culture

Six advanced security safeguards, yum cha and Cantonese opera to feature on new banknotes, set to be in circulation later this year

Hong Kong’s new banknotes will have six advanced security features to prevent counterfeiting, and will showcase the city’s renowned yum cha culture and Cantonese opera.

Unveiled on Tuesday by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the bills will have enhanced watermark and concealed denomination – a numeral visible when the bill is tilted at an angle – among other features.

“Similar to other places, we will at appropriate intervals introduce a new series of banknotes for the purpose of adopting the latest banknote printing technology, thus making it difficult for counterfeiters to imitate or replicate our banknotes,” Norman Chan Tak-lam, chief executive of the HKMA, said.

The new bills, to be put into circulation in phases from the fourth quarter this year, will have new design themes on them: yum cha on HK$20 notes; butterflies (HK$50); Cantonese opera (HK$100); the city’s Unesco Global Geopark (HK$500); and Hong Kong’s position as an international financial centre on HK$1,000 bills.

For the first time, the designs on one side of each new bill will be in a portrait layout.

HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) and Bank of China (Hong Kong) issue notes in the city. Each institution has its own designs, based on the stipulated themes. The three banks and the HKMA spent about three years on the project.

The Cantonese words “yum cha” can be translated as “drinking tea”, but the phrase refers to having dim sum – bite-sized dishes ranging from steamed buns to dumplings and rolls – and tea in Chinese restaurants.

This year’s new bills will also have a heavier, more embossed texture than those currently in circulation.

When the note is tilted to face the light, a shimmering ring on the top right of the bill, as well as the large and small rings on the metallic thread on the right side of the bill, will move correspondingly.

HKMA and bank officials, along with Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, unveil the notes. Photo: Sam Tsang

Mary Huen Wai-yee, Standard Chartered’s chief executive for Hong Kong, said the theme of its new notes was Hong Kong’s spirit. When the five new bills are put together, their backgrounds form a silhouette of Lion Rock, a local landmark and symbol of the city’s spirit.

The HKMA also sponsored the Society for the Blind to develop a smartphone app that scans a note and reads out its denomination. The app can read the new notes and bills issued in 2003 and 2010.

David Lee Shing, who has only 10 per cent of his vision left, said it was easy for the visually impaired to confuse HK$20 notes with HK$50 notes, and HK$100 with HK$500 notes, because of their similar sizes. The 30-year-old said he would use the application to put notes of different denominations into different compartments of his wallet, so he is clear which is which.

The Bank of China notes. Photo: Sam Tsang

The last time notes with new designs were released was in 2010.

At the time, new security elements and features to aid the visually impaired were added. The new features back then included Braille in the bottom left corner of the bill, a “stronger” embossed numeral in the top left corner and embossed lines that varied in number depending on the denomination.

Last year, police seized 1,888 fake banknotes, down from 2,620 in 2016. But in the first five months of this year, they confiscated 1,464 notes, up on 814 in the same period last year.

The designs on the Stanard Chartered-issued notes. Photo: Sam Tsang
And on Tuesday morning, a man and a woman were arrested for producing fake notes worth about HK$9,100.

Hongkongers seemed to have mixed feelings about the new bills.

Derek Liu, a 22-year-old student, said the hexagonal rock formations on the Bank of China-issued HK$500 bill made it look like the city was sinking.

Why does the Hong Kong government have so much cash?

“That’s our future,” he said. “Good luck, Hong Kong.”

Event manager Lam Lok-yan, 34, said Bank of China’s HK$1,000 note showed the “reality” of the city, which is “all about money and business”.

But Lam Chi-fung, 29 years old and working at an IT firm, approved of the Lion Rock motif on Standard Chartered’s notes. He said: “Lion Rock is something that symbolises Hong Kong.”

Each of the three issuing banks will release its own designs, based on the five stipulated themes. Photo: Sam Tsang

Last week, the authority dropped a strong hint on its Facebook page that the new notes would feature yum cha. In a four-second video, Chan was seen having dim sum with friends.

In another video, the authority asked viewers if they knew how many HK$1,000 notes could fit into a suitcase and into one of Hong Kong’s ubiquitous red, white and blue nylon bags.

The answers: HK$5 million and HK$70 million worth of HK$1,000 notes for a suitcase and a nylon bag respectively.

In a third video, the authority said the HK$500 notes, known locally as “big cows”, would soon evolve to “rocks”, hinting that the city’s geopark would feature on them.

Additional reporting by Veta Chan

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Yum cha among designs of more secure banknotes