Authorities have rejected a district council’s proposal for festive lights reading “Hong Kong add oil,” claiming that the popular expression carries political implications.
The Home Affairs Department, a government agency that overseas district and community relations, told the Yau Tsim Mong district council Tuesday it was turning down the suggested phrase to “avoid causing misunderstanding and affect social harmony.”
In a Facebook post Tuesday night, Mong Kok district councillor Ben Lam wrote: “‘Add oil Hong Kong’ as a slogan for festive lights has officially been banned.”
The festive lights, which will be displayed in the Yau Tsim Mong district to welcome 2021, will instead read “best wishes for the new year,” authorities decided.
Lam told Coconuts he did not understand why “Hong Kong add oil” was barred when it is a neutral phrase spoken across political parties.
“Add oil,” which made the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018, is as much a popular pro-democracy protests refrain as it is a general expression of encouragement in the city.
As Lam pointed out, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has used the slogan in her social media posts before.
When the COVID-19 epidemic began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the phrase—which is also expressed in Mandarin—lit up buildings across China, a sign of solidarity with healthcare workers on the frontlines of the crisis.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Hong Kong authorities also branded “Add oil China! Add oil Hong Kong” as an official chant to cheer on athletes.
“Why would this phrase cause misunderstanding and affect social harmony? I don’t understand. The government needs to address this,” Lam said.
Coconuts reached out to the Home Affairs Department for comment but has not received a response at the time of writing.