On the same day local news was dominated by the story that Hong Kong Post would be covering up the colonial era insignias on the remaining 59 historic post-boxes in the city. The offending cyphers feature the British royal crowns set to a design incorporating a mix of both British and local Chinese symbolism, and are unique to Hong Kong.
We were told they had to go to “avoid confusion,” and that the action was part of a wider plan to gradually “de-colonise” the postal service. It is worth noting that the Hong Kong postal service has already been substantially rebranded, and that the preservation of a few historic working postboxes in their original form was not before seen as an issue.
As a news story this may at first consideration seem of little importance. There were no explosions, and no world heritage sites had been destroyed. And yet the news generated a strong and vocal reaction.
Among my familial and social circles I have not heard one person support the Post Office’s decision. And whilst no tears were shed, there is an unmistakable sense of loss. The retention of these historic cyphers has not and will not affect service, nor is it likely that anyone will fail to correctly identify a working postbox. There is no confusion on what motivated this decision.
It is public knowledge that the offending postbox cyphers are not symbols of either a British post office nor specifically of the British crown, even if at one time they may have been. Like milk tea, they are a colonial legacy, shaped by a local context, that have become central to the Hong Kong identity. The elderly woman in Lei Yu Mun was right: what is being covered, and what has been given offence as colonial, is in fact a marker of our own lives and of Hong Kong’s story.