More than a hundred people joined a protest at Tai Wai MTR station on Saturday evening against the ‘selective’ enforcement of MTR bylaws.

Demonstrators wielding guitars, accordions, trombones and bagpipes, were responding to a Facebook campaign urging citizens to take their musical instruments on to the MTR system.

It followed an incident in which a Baptist University music student was warned by MTR staff for bringing his cello into Tai Wai station last month. Some accuse staff of harassing musicians while turning a blind eye to oversized luggage carried by tourists and parallel traders.

Musicians playing inside Tai Wai station.
Musicians playing inside Tai Wai station. Photo: HKFP.

Mavis Lung Man-wai, a yanqin teacher who started the Facebook campaign, said that she was happy with the protest turnout.

“I feel we have achieved our goal, because we have received a lot of media exposure. No matter whether MTR’s response can meet our demands or not, we have done what we can do.”

Although the MTR Corporation promised a public consultation on luggage policy, the company did not respond to Lung.

“MTR didn’t talk to me at all. I’ll send emails to them in my personal capacity to ask for exemption for musical instruments [from warnings and fines]… I hope musical organisations such as the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra can do more, art organisations like the Arts Development Council, and universities that have a music department, as students are the ones that need to travel by MTR.”

Mavis Lung with her yangqin.
Mavis Lung with her yangqin. Photo: HKFP.

Lung added that she would not usually carry her yangqin onto the MTR, but she started the campaign “to stand up against injustice.”

Around half of the protesters were from localist groups such as Hong Kong Localism Power, who claimed the MTR did not enforce their own bylaws on parallel traders, yet picked on local people.

HKFP_Lens: Click for more pictures from the protest.

One of the protest placards read: “[MTR] Prosecutes HK Citizens only but not Chinese Smugglers – No [to] MTR Corruptions” another read, “MTR staff take bribes and assist smugglers evading taxes.”

Most of these protesters did not bring musical instruments but chanted slogans against the MTRC.

MTR staff guarding a way out for passengers.
Photo: HKFP.

Protest in different forms

Miss Ng, a protester, said: “I live in Lohas Park, I have to take MTR with my cello. I have had it for ten years and it was fine before – it’s not reasonable to give warnings to people with musical instruments now. It’s disturbing many students, but they have no choice.”

She said her cello was a full size one that was 134cm tall -4cm over the MTR guidelines.

Miss Ng with her cello
Miss Ng with her cello (right most). Photo: HKFP.

Patrick Brousseau, a teacher wearing a kilt, drew lots of attention with his bagpipes. Brousseau had an alternative suggestion for the MTRC: “Considering that the first and last cars usually have bigger open spaces, the MTR [can] just [ask] people with oversize baggage to go to those cars. I think most people would say ‘yeah, I can do that’, right?”

“It would be nice if there were special carriages, because then it would help transport bicycles on the train. But also I don’t think that the smuggling problem is going to go away very soon,” he said. “If the MTR actually introduce baggage cars… for people transporting goods to China… they can make a ton of money, and kill two birds with one stone.”

Some protesters played and sang popular Cantonese songs such as Beyond’s ‘Under a Vast Sky’, a song often heard at pro-democracy protests.

Another demonstrator painted the station floor in protest of the MTRC “disturbing livelihoods and suppressing art”. He cleaned the floor before leaving.

Painter Perry Dino, who is often seen at protests, said: “MTR should give people a chance to bring musical instruments, as some are teaching music for a living and don’t have money to take taxis or vans.”

Dino added that his paint set exceeded MTR luggage guidelines when expanded. “I am prepared to be fined here,” he said.

Painter Perry Dino.
Painter Perry Dino. Photo: HKFP.

Mr Lee, who brought a symbolic yellow umbrella instead of an instrument, said: “Hong Kong people should protect children’s right to learn music. In the past it was allowed to carry musical instruments into stations. Why not now?”

Mr Lee without musical instrument but yellow umbrella.
Mr Lee without musical instrument but yellow umbrella. Photo: HKFP.

Most of the protesters left Tai Wai station around 8 pm.

Anti-smuggling protest

Several dozen protesters moved to Shatin station at around 7pm.

They demanded MTR staff check passengers’ luggage when thought to be over size limits.

A TVB reporter was hit in the face by a woman with luggage who was surrounded by protesters outside the station.

TVB news department issued a statement saying that it “strongly condemns the violent act”.

Most of the protesters left Shatin station at around 9:30pm.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.