By Jerome Taylor and Su Xinqi
Outnumbered and with the rule book written against them, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers have embraced rotten plants, red bean cakes, bananas and a dizzying array of other weird objects for theatrical stunts inside the rambunctious chamber.
In the latest event to infuriate the pro-Beijing majority, opposition lawmaker Ray Chan threw a foul-smelling fertiliser onto the green carpet of the Legislative Chamber on Thursday.
The incident occurred on the anniversary of China’s 1989 deadly crackdown on Tiananmen protesters, and Chan said the jar of brown liquid represented the “stink” of that tragedy.
But it also forced lawmakers to leave the chamber as his mess was cleaned up, delaying a vote on a Beijing-backed bill to criminalise insulting China’s national anthem that the opposition was destined to lose.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp argues such protest stunts – coupled with procedural delays like filibustering – are the only way to voice opposition inside a chamber deliberately weighted in favour of the city’s pro-Beijing leaders.
Opponents condemm the actions, saying the disruptions paralyse the law making body. Tensions between the camps regularly boil over with fights and noisy shouting matches routine.
Legislative disruption was part of the justification Beijing gave last month when it announced plans to impose a sweeping national security law on the city that bypasses the legislature entirely, a move that has sparked alarm.
Ahead of its 1997 handover to China by Britain, Hong Kong was promised certain liberties and autonomy for 50 years.
The Legislative Council was part of that deal but it was designed to ensure the city’s pro-democracy opposition never held sway
Only half of the chamber’s 70 seats are elected.
The rest are chosen by “functional constituencies” – special interest groups representing industries, corporations, professions and community organisations that reliably vote for pro-Beijing candidates.
As a result, the minority of opposition lawmakers have long resorted to disruption and protests.
Doraemon and stuffed toys
The national anthem law – which will punish insults to China’s “March of the Volunteers” with up to three years in jail – is the latest bill to spark chaos inside the legislature.
The pro-democracy camp used filibusters for months to stop it reaching the floor with fights between rival camps breaking out.
A lawmaker recently threw a rotten plant at the legislature’s president in protest.
Another object thrown by opposition lawmakers in the past is “dorayaki”, a Japanese cake made with red bean.
The popular Japanese cartoon character Doraemon uses the cakes to get people to tell the truth. As a result, Hong Kong lawmakers use dorayaki as a way to accuse their rivals of lying.
Other symbols have required less explanation.
In 2008, a banana was thrown at the city’s leader in protest at cuts to allowances for the elderly as opponents warned the poorest wouldn’t be able to afford fresh fruit.
Protests inside the legislature have also sparked constitutional crises.
In 2016, a group of newly elected opposition lawmakers deliberately fluffed their oath-taking or held protest banners.
That prompted Beijing to declare the oaths invalid and the lawmakers were later kicked out of office by the city’s courts.
Hong Kong’s penchant for hurling symbolic objects exists outside of the legislature as well.
In 2013, a protester threw a cuddly wolf teddy bear bought from Ikea at former leader Leung Chun-ying.
Leung was dubbed a “wolf” because his family name is similar to the word for wolf in Chinese and his critics disliked his political cunning. The name Ikea had given the stuffed toy also sounded close to an expletive in Cantonese.
The toy swiftly sold out at the city’s Ikea branches.