Sign of the times


After the People’s Liberation Army took control of Shanghai in June 1949 the soldiers soon took down signs on streets on the riverside Bund that were named after foreigners.

Avenue Joffre, named after French general Joseph Joffre, was renamed Huaihai Road to commemorate the Huaihai Campaign, a battle which helped the Communists to win the civil war. Avenue Edward VII in the British Concession was renamed as Yan’an Road, to celebrate the Red Army’s revolutionary base.

Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony more than 20 years ago and an advisory delegate to the Chinese parliament this month declared the time has come to decolonise the city’s street names too.

The proposal was made by Shie Tak-chung, one of the CPPCC delegates representing Hong Kong at the Two Sessions gathering in Beijing. Getting rid of names like Victoria Park and Wellington Street, the Fujian-based businessman suggested, would boost patriotic spirits in Hong Kong.

The proposal must contend with thousands of other motions tabled during the lawmakers’ annual gathering (see WiC317) – and is unlikely to be acted on – but it has stoked creative memes in Hong Kong’s social media. “Should we change Taiping Shan (aka Victoria Peak) to Jinping Shan?” one internet user asked, poking fun at the revered status of Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.

“Queen’s Road East should be Renmin’s Road East then?” another suggested, alluding to the redistribution of power to the ‘people’ under Communist rule. (During the Japanese occupation in the 1940s, Queen’s Road was renamed Meiji-dori.)

China’s legislature last week gave virtually unanimous approval for amendments which have removed term limits to Xi Jinping’s presidency (2,958 votes in favour, only two brave souls against). However, their counterparts in Hong Kong are less likely to rubber stamp changes to the city’s colonial nomenclature. There has been a key exception: the garrison’s headquarters for the People’s Liberation Army was previously called “the Prince of Wales Building” but lawmakers passed a resolution four years after the handover of the former colony to rename it the PLA Forces Hong Kong Building.

Other colonial symbols remain politically sensitive: for instance, the government spiked a plan three years ago to remove the royal cyphers on 59 post boxes left over from British rule, after the proposal triggered widespread local criticism.

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