Bright lights, big city
As Hong Kong’s neon glow comes under threat from stricter building regulations, a new generation of light artists emerge: co-founder of Trilingua, a design studio based in Kwun Tong, Adonian Chan’s signs are inspired by beiwei kaishu, the classic calligraphy style for signage here since the 1950s.
One of the last remaining Hong Kong “neon masters”, Wu Chi-Kai, 51, has been making signs in his Kwai Chung workshop for three decades. His father’s apprentice, he began his career aged 17 in the 1980s. “At the time, the government didn’t have by-laws or size restrictions for the signs,” he says. “We just made them as big as the clients wanted them.”
Sign of the times
Morning maintenance of a sign on Nathan Road. Neon display signs first arrived in Hong Kong as advertisements in the 1950s but, according to local magazine CityLife, new safety requirements and the closure of traditional businesses have meant 90 per cent of the city’s neon has been lost in the past two decades.
While the exact number is unknown, it’s thought Hong Kong once had as many as 100,000 neon signs in the 1980s, when the city’s economy boomed. Founded in 2017, the Hong Kong Neon Heritage group is documenting the locations of the city’s last signs, and offers tours and workshops. The group was founded after M+ Museum’s hugely popular online exhibition launched in 2014: neonsigns.hk
Way to glow
Night falls and Hong Kong lights up in neon. Red and green is a classic combination; in China, red is the colour of joy and luck, and green that of health and prosperity.
Wear and glare
The flashing neon rainbow on the facade of Victory Mahjong Parlour in Yau Ma Tei district is one of the longest-surviving signs in Hong Kong.
All systems glow
Hong Kong removed nearly 3,000 signs in 2016; M+ Museum continues to try to rescue them from destruction.
Sweetness and light
Opened in 1950, Mido Cafe is one of the oldest cha chaan teng (tea bars) in Hong Kong and has one of the most distinctive neon signs in Yau Ma Tei, switched off manually each night at 9pm by 70-year-old owner Wong Shing-Fan.