Hong Kong’s government has announced a ban on dry goods, including political satire items, at Lunar New Year fairs starting early next year, citing public safety concerns.

In recent years, dry good stalls at Lunar New Year fairs have become known for selling items related to current affairs, such as decorations and t-shirts. Political parties and groups usually attend to fundraise through the sale of goods.

2017 Lunar New Year fair
Democratic Party’s stall at 2017 Lunar New Year fair. File Photo: Citizen News.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) said in a press release on Thursday that no dry goods stalls will be allowed at the 15 Lunar New Year fair venues across Hong Kong between January 19 and 25, 2020.

In a statement, the FEHD said the decision was made after considering the current social situation.

“[Lunar New Year] fairs in the past had all along been crowded with people, including elderly people and children. In view of the current social situation, the government, as the venue management and event organiser, has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the stall owners and visiting members of the public,” an FEHD spokesman said.

demosisto chinese lunar new year fair
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“To safeguard public safety and public order, and to implement crowd control measures more effectively, the FEHD will enlarge the sizes of the 2020 [Lunar New Year] fair stalls to cater for the operational needs of sale of flowers. Public access will also be widened to alleviate the crowding situation. Since the total number of stalls has been reduced, only wet goods stalls for selling flowers will be provided. If circumstances at the venues permit, fast food stalls will also be provided.”

Large-scale protests sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill have entered their 22nd week. The movement has evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent against Beijing’s encroachment, lack of democratic reform, police handling of the crisis, among other grievances.

2017 Lunar New Year fair
2017 Lunar New Year fair. File Photo: Citizen News.

The FEHD’s spokesman added that the base prices for stalls to be auctioned off will be half of last year’s in the face of an economic downturn.

Lawmaker Au Nok-hin told HKFP that the FEHD’s ban will reduce public interest in the fairs.

Au, vice-chair of the legislature’s Panel on Home Affairs, said that halving the base prices may not compensate for the loss of revenue owing to fewer shoppers.

“It will not be problematic if the fairs are conducted like those in past years. When will the government stop obstructing public events?” he said.

2017 Lunar New Year fair
2017 Lunar New Year fair. File Photo: Citizen News.

In 2017, the FEHD prohibited Youngspiration and the Hong Kong National Party – two localist political groups – from selling merchandise at the city’s largest Lunar New Year fair at the Victoria Park in Causeway Bay owing to “public safety” concerns.

The spokesman also said the government has tried its best to ensure the fairs go ahead as planned.

Demosisto Lunar New Year fair
Political group Demosisto’s stall at 2019 Lunar New Year fair. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Miaxsum Hodlma.

“We will closely monitor the latest situation and conduct continuous risk [assessments]. Suspension or cancellation of the fairs for public safety or other reasons after successful bidding will not be ruled out,” the spokesman said.

In total, 1,284 wet goods stalls and 18 fast food stalls will be put up for auction starting next Tuesday.

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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.