HSBC’s iconic lions, Stephen and Stitt, back on public view after first phase of restoration works since New Year vandalism

23-Oct-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

HSBC’s iconic lion sculptures reappeared in public on Thursday for the first time in more than nine months, partially restored after they were damaged by protesters during the social unrest in Hong Kong.

Stephen and Stitt, as they are called, were unveiled outside the bank’s headquarters in a ceremony this morning attended by more than 100 staff, journalists and members of the public.

“Stephen and Stitt have watched over HSBC’s main building for 85 years. Through good times and bad, they have been an enduring part of Hong Kong’s story,” said Peter Wong, deputy chair and chief executive of HSBC Asia-Pacific.

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“Many customers, employees and the general public told us how much they missed the lions, so we decided to put them back on display following the first phase of restoration. When the work is complete, they will look as impressive as ever.”

Because of social distancing restrictions the ceremony, officiated by Wong and local chief executive Diana Cesar, was kept short and simple. A feng shui master, Lung King-chuen, offered a blessing, wiping the bodies of the two statues with a red cloth and burning incense sticks while Wong and Cesar patted the heads, paws and tails of the lions.

Lung had advised HSBC on feng shui the ancient Chinese tradition of aligning objects in their environment so as to create harmony when it rebuilt the headquarters in the 1980s.

“The HSBC lions are icons for the bank and Hong Kong, I am so happy to see them again. I hope their appearance will bring good luck to the business of HSBC,” said a small shareholder at the ceremony, who gave her name only as Cheung.

The lions, which have guarded the entrance to the HSBC headquarters in Central since 1935, were taken out of public view after violent protesters smeared them with red paint and set them alight in retaliation for the banking group’s role in the saga.

They vented their fury at the UK banking group for closing down an account to feed Spark Alliance, which was accused of funding the legal and medical costs of the protest movement. Hong Kong police in December froze more than HK$70 million (US$9 million) in the account, while four of its members were arrested on money laundering allegations.

That act became the early seed of the banking group’s troubles as it later found itself caught in the middle of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over a variety of issues, including a controversial national security law in Hong Kong and a US inquiry of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies.

Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times has suggested in recent months that London-headquartered HSBC could be placed on an “unreliable entities” list over the Huawei situation. The US also has threatened to sanction foreign banks in the city who engage in “significant” transactions with individuals accused of undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, pointed to HSBC as an example of how China is opening up its markets to foreign businesses. Some in the mainland see the post as an example of the rhetoric about HSBC cooling down.

HSBC executives have privately pointed to the company continuing to receive mandates from the Chinese government despite pressure in mainland media over Huawei. The company, however, was recently left off a $6 billion sovereign bond sale for the first time since China returned to the international markets in 2017.

Today’s blessing ceremony, expected to take place at 11am local time, represents “the first stage towards the lions’ full restoration which will be conducted by experts when they will be able to fly,” Cesar said in the email.

The bank had wanted to hire conservation experts from Britain to advise on the restoration but the Covid-19 pandemic prevented them from flying.

HSBC adopted the sculpted lions as its emblems in 1921 when its chief manager Alexander Stephen decided a pair of lions symbolising protection and security would look impressive outside the group’s Shanghai branch. The other lion was named after Gordon Stitt, the Shanghai manager at the time.

The pair became an instant hit with the local population who would often stroke the lions on their way past, hoping the gesture might bring them power and prosperity.


Category: Hong Kong

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