The Hong Kong government did not intend to “impede” the development of traditional Chinese lion dance activities with rules requiring police checks of performers’ and organisers’ criminal records, the city’s security chief has said.

Regulations on public lion dance, dance or unicorn dances were necessary to ensure such performances were not used as a cover-up for unlawful activities, Secretary for Security Chris Tang told the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

Lion dance
Lion dance in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

The minister’s remarks were made in response to a question raised by lawmaker and Lingnan University history professor Lau Chi-pang, who said some people saw the government regulations as having “created a negative impact” on the development of the dragon and lion dances.

Under the Summary Offences Ordinance, it is illegal to organise or participate in a lion dance, dragon dance or unicorn dance, or attend any such performance in a public place, unless a general or special permit has been obtained from the police commissioner. The provision does not cover performances held in private venues.

The purpose of the regulation was to prevent “lawbreakers” from being involved in the performance, as well as making sure the activities would not cause public disorder such as traffic congestion and noise nuisance, Tang said in a written reply to the legislature.

When considering permit applications, the police would take into account the venue, the organiser’s background and past record, the nature of the activity, the impact on traffic and residents, and other factors, the official said. Applicants were required to submit copies of their identity documents and authorise checks of their criminal conviction records, which Tang described as “useful references” for officers to consider the legitimacy of the activities.

Tai Hang fire dragon dance
Tai Hang’s fire dragon dance. File photo: GovHK.

“Given the unique nature of lion dance activities and attendant martial arts displays, it is necessary for the Government to ensure that public order is not disturbed and that public safety is not affected when such sport activities are conducted in public places,” he said.

As of last month, the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts Dragon and Lion Dance Association had around 190 organisation members. In the year of 2018-2019, the association organised five dragon and lion dance competitions with funding from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The competition saw more than 200 participating teams and more than 2,100 participants in total.

Some of these competitions were cancelled in the following year owing to the extradition bill protests, while the association did not organise any competitions in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Police issued 2,421 permits in 2018, while 2,364 permits were granted in the following year. The number of permit applications dropped below 2,000 in 2020 and marked the first time applications were rejected since 2018. Application number dropped further to 133 last year, and 21 were rejected.

The police did not have figures on breaches of the permit terms, Tang said, adding that the police would “take appropriate enforcement action” in case of any violation, subject to the circumstances of each case.

Tang on Wednesday said the current permit system had operated effectively over the years and the authorities did not intend to hinder the development of lion dances. Police would conduct reviews of the application procedures to see seek improvements, the minster said, adding the police launched an online platform for lion dance organisers to submit the required documents through the website instead of in person.

“We would like to stress that there is no intention on the part of the Government to impede the proper development of lion dance activities and attendant martial arts displays,” Tang said.

In August, Hong Kong’s iconic Tai Hang dragon dance was called off for the third consecutive year, after the authorities refused to grant them an exemption to hold the performance amid rising Covid-19 infections in the city at the time. The century-old custom traditionally involves around 300 current or former residents of Tai Hang, a neighbourhood near Hong Kong’s commercial district of Causeway Bay.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.