Despite the National Security Law imposed in June 2020 to quell dissent and stifle free speech, Hong Kong’s businesses and residents continue to lend support to the pro-democracy movement with mooncakes, milk tea, and even taxicabs. In the weeks leading up to the Mid-Autumn festival on October 1, Twitter users have been sharing images of these snacks and services, just a few represented in the “yellow economic circle”: a movement of pro-democracy businesses and consumers that sprang up during the anti-extradition protests beginning in 2019.
The colour yellow, synonymous with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, stands in opposition to “blue” businesses - a shorthand for companies that support the government and the police.
In a moment of political and economic crisis in the region, the “yellow economy” is a way for Hongkongers to support businesses that share their political stance and an attempt to reduce the region’s economic dependence on China. But in the crackdown against pro-democratic speech, the future of the yellow economic circle remains uncertain.
“We really f***ing love Hong Kong”
At the end of September, Twitter users began posting images of “pro-democracy” mooncakes, an ornate pastry enjoyed during the Mid-Autumn festival. Last year, “yellow” mooncake manufacturers were more daring, imprinting anti-extradition slogans directly on their mooncakes. But facing the possibility of prosecution for crimes such as “subversion” or “sedition” against the central government, bakeries have adopted a pro-democracy slogan that does not directly refer to the protests: “We really f***ing love Hong Kong”.
In a September 15 Twitter thread about yellow economic circle mooncakes, this user shows a pro-democracy mooncake gift box from Wah Yee Tang Cake Shop that reads “We really f***ing love Hong Kong”.
On September 17, this Twitter user reposted an image of a mooncake that went viral in August 2019. It contains a secret note that reads: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of the times” - a play on a legend that claims that Han Chinese revolutionaries in the Yuan Dynasty used mooncakes to transmit secret messages.
Milk tea is another local treat that symbolizes the region’s fight for democracy. This Twitter user posted a picture of a strawberry yogurt drink from real.milk that features a masked Hongkonger on its packaging. A shared affinity for milk tea drinks in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand inspired the #MilkTeaAlliance, an online movement of pro-democratic solidarity among protesters in the three regions.
“C.C.”, a Twitter user who regularly tweets about the yellow economy, explains their support for the movement. (The user requested anonymity for this article.)
The movement in Hong Kong is beyond politics. It comes down to basic humanity and the freedom to live without fear. Many business owners would kowtow to the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party’s] censorship or even to some big franchise that supports their propaganda. At the end of the day, I want my support to go to people I agree with and who struggle to live with dignity in this suppressed city.
Pro-democracy taxis create community and prioritize passenger privacy
Yellow economy taxis have also proliferated in Hong Kong. On September 16, this artist posted on Twitter a photo of protest stickers that their friend received in a yellow economy taxi.
In this September 16 Twitter post, the user says that their friend sent them pictures of free protest stickers that they received in a yellow economic circle taxi.
“It gives me a sense of community”
According to another Twitter user, “Almond”, who also requested anonymity, yellow economy taxi services like Tama Taxi have existed on Telegram since 2019.
I take yellow taxis about 3-4 times a week. The drivers usually give me snacks or masks. Sometimes we exchange stickers. The drivers are all pro-democratic, and it gives me a sense of community. The point is to support like-minded drivers through hard times and to refuse to spend a single penny on blue businesses.
One recently released taxi application, WoliTaxi, offers users the possibility of protecting their privacy with what they call “no-trace” rides that they can take without signing up for an account.
An uncertain future for the yellow economic circle
The National Security Law has thrown a wrench into the yellow economy, with restaurants removing protest art and withdrawing from the circle soon after the law came into force in June 2020. The series of crushing events over the past two years, including the U.S.-China trade war, decrease in tourism revenue, and measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, has residents preparing for an economic depression.
According to C.C., the yellow economic circle is like a “Noah’s ark”, constructed to try and save Hong Kong-loving businesses from ruin. Social media accounts, phone applications, and web-based maps that track “yellow” establishments have directed crowds to struggling restaurants. Bloomberg reported that C+ Burger, a small eatery that experienced a drop in business due to protests and the Covid-19 outbreak, was flooded with orders in February after being promoted on a “yellow” Facebook page.
Although C.C. notes that “the National Security Law has instilled fear [in business owners]”, it is up to consumers to ensure the survival of the circle. So far there have been no reports of “yellow” businesses in the food and service industries being targeted by the authorities. However, business owners like Cheung Chun-kit of the Lung Mun Cafe chain say they have withdrawn from the circle due to harassment from “blue” shop owners.
It is more difficult for business owners to express their views. But the risk is still minimal for consumers. Hong Kong is still a very capitalist city. We are free to decide how to spend our money, and it is a freedom they cannot take away from us. We have social media, websites or even apps to identify and locate businesses sharing similar views. We may need to rely on our memories and hearsay one day, but there will always be a way. I believe the Yellow Economic Circle still has a long way to go.
Article byDiana Liu.