Fight to preserve Hong Kong's colonial post boxes

Picture of a colonial-era Hong Kong post box Image copyright CAHK
Image caption There are 51 post boxes in Hong Kong built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

A decision by Hong Kong post office authorities to cover up the British royal insignia on the territory's colonial-era post boxes has conservationists up in arms.

Hongkong Post has said the insignia is "inappropriate", as the city has been under Chinese rule since the 1997 handover, and that it may cause "confusion".

But heritage groups say the post boxes are a reminder of an important part of Hong Kong's history and are waging a campaign to preserve them in their entirety.

'Street heritage'

Activists believe political pressure from Beijing has prompted a recent shift towards downplaying British colonial elements in Hong Kong. An influential former Beijing official called last month for the city to "de-colonise".

The Conservancy Association's assistant campaign manager Roy Ng told the BBC the post boxes are part of Hong Kong's "street heritage" and should be preserved.

Image copyright CAHK
Image caption One of the oldest post boxes is on Lantau Island near the Shek Pik prison and reservoir, built during the reign of King George V

His association has created a Google map pinpointing the post boxes, and is urging the public to post pictures on a Facebook page as a way to monitor for changes to the letter boxes.

Other activists have organised a letter-writing campaign to Hongkong Post and are also staging a protest this Saturday.

Hongkong Post has not said when it plans to make the change, nor made clear what it would use to cover up the insignias.

Image copyright CAHK
Image caption This is one of only two post boxes built during the reign of King George VI, and is one of the few that have retained the original red colour
Image copyright CAHK
Image caption Though it is no longer in use, it is housed at the Stanley Post Office built in 1937 which is still operational

There are 59 colonial-era post boxes, with seven dating back to King George V's reign, making them around 80 to 100 years old.

The red post boxes were painted green after the city was handed over to China in 1997.

Image copyright CAHK
Image caption Many of the post boxes are by roads or next to bus stops
Image copyright CAHK
Image caption One of the most picturesque post box locations is on the road leading up to Hong Kong's famous Victoria Peak

"The royal insignia is the main characteristic of the entire post box. Covering or removing it would seriously harm the post box's heritage," says Mr Ng, whose association has asked Hongkong Post to not only preserve the insignia but also paint the post boxes in their original red colour.

"We hope they can be preserved so that when we walk along the street, we can have an understanding of our history. They can even be considered as tourist attractions."

Image copyright CAHK
Image caption The post boxes can also be found in Hong Kong's outlying islands such as Cheung Chau
Image copyright CAHK
Image caption There is also only one post box in Hong Kong that has the Scottish Crown, in Statue Square. It does not bear the Queen's royal symbol, in line with post boxes installed in Scotland after 1953, as she is not recognised as the second Queen Elizabeth there

Mr Ng says the city government - dominated by pro-Beijing figures - appears to be moving towards removing vestiges of British colonial rule. Later this month officials will discuss another controversial proposal to remove the city's iconic trams in its Central district.

"Our colonial history is still part of our history. Even if we remove all our colonial-style heritage, we cannot make that part of history disappear forever in Hong Kong," says Mr Ng.

Reporting by Tessa Wong

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