Forget the army: Hong Kong invaded by kitsch

After the handover, people feared repression. What they got was bad taste, reports Stephen Vines
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The Independent Online
Some pessimists had been issuing dire warnings about messy confrontations with the police, others predicted a dose of economic jitters but no one had quite foreseen the greatest danger to the new order in Hong Kong: bad taste.

I mean the sort of appalling taste which gives kitsch a bad name. It would appear that nothing is too gaudy for the new Hong Kong. I doubt an edict has been issued but it is clear that pastel colours are not favoured by the post-colonial regime which wants its primary colours as primary as possible.

Decorations celebrating the "Glorious Reunification with the Motherland" come in the deepest of reds, the brightest golds and the most overwhelming pinks. The eye is assaulted by fairy lights, neon lights and anything else that shines - the brighter the better.

Ostentation is the order of the day. Building owners vie with one another to erect the biggest, loudest and most garish displays welcoming the new era. Pink coloured dolphins carved in Styrofoam leap from precarious ledges, demonstrating that their owners know that this endangered species was chosen as the symbol of the reunification celebrations.

The new regime is understandably proud of having a brand new flag, so proud that it is displayed absolutely everywhere (though designers at this week's Hong Kong fashion festival were warned not to include the flag in their designs).

Alongside the new Hong Kong flag, with the Bauhinia flower as its centrepiece, (unfortunately this is a sterile hybrid, but never mind) are copious displays of the new sovereign state's distinctive red flag with its five golden yellow stars. Fortunately, the new Hong Kong flag is also red, so there can be no ghastly problems of colour co-ordination.

But it is a little unclear why a law has been rushed through instructing that the flag be displayed on all manner of buildings, including public hospitals. The net result is red flags everywhere. The motto of building owners seems to be: if in doubt, display a flag.

It is invidious to point fingers at the source of much of the bad taste but I cannot help mentioning a display of gifts given to the new Hong Kong by China's 31 provinces. Scrambling to compete in ostentation and gaudiness, they bring new meaning to the word vulgar. A breathless government press release proudly notes that some of the gifts "weigh between 1,000 and 3,000 kilogrammes".

The Peking municipality weighed in with an excruciatingly awful cloisonne vase, modestly called "Worldwide Jubilation". Poverty-stricken Liaoning Province offered lacquerware entitled "Spirit of the Chinese Nation". Hebei Province sent a "National Jubilation" crystal bottle. From Inner Mongolia, famous for its horses, came a chunk of sculpture from the school of Socialist Realism, called "Steeds Galloping Towards the Future". And Jilin Province offered a massive inkstone thing called "Songhua and Bauhinia All Rooted in China".

No one pretends the old colonial regime was famous for good taste. The British influenced style tended towards a what might be called suburban municipal, but at least the outgoing regime had the sense to be discreet about its aesthetic values.

I am coming to believe that the extraordinary bad weather which has battered Hong Kong since the beginning of Chinese rule is a form of heavenly protest at the onslaught of vulgarity.

How else to explain record levels of rainfall? Surely the rain has come to wash away something other than a century-and-a-half of British rule.