Chinese New Year is supposed to be a time for levity, celebration, and prosperity. But in Hong Kong, the Lunar New Year's festivities got ugly after food vendors butted heads—literally and figuratively—with local vendors who were dishing out fishballs and other street foods at a crowded street market.
In Hong Kong's densely populated neighborhood of Kowloon, local authorities attempted to shut down and fine vendors who were serving food to hungry revelers. Tensions quickly escalated as protesters began throwing bottles and rocks at the police officers and later, as matters worsened, setting fires to trash cans and piles of debris. The police retaliated by using their batons and pepper spray.
There has been heightened friction between Hong Kong's police force and its general public since 2014, when months of student-led protests widened the chasm between local authorities and wary citizens. The protests were particularly concentrated in the shopping district of Mong Kok, where the "fishball revolution," as some citizens and new sources are calling it, broke out last night.
WATCH: When #ChineseNewYear goes wrong! Police fire warning shots at protestors in #HongKong (via @SCMP_News) pic.twitter.com/WCv0QVBMvo
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon)
February 8, 2016
While street food vendors have long been considered part of Lunar New Year festivities and have been historically overlooked by the police, officers attempted to crack down on the sellers this year and were swiftly met with resistance from angry bystanders. Videos taken on-site show chaos breaking out as police tried—and largely failed—to control the crowds. More than 90 people were injured and 61 were arrested, according to the BBC.
#China: Riots in Hong Kong following Chinese new year celebrations. #fishballrevolution #mongkok via @trey_menefee pic.twitter.com/nNT8EBXrhO — ѕyndιcalιѕт (@syndicalisms) February 8, 2016
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters, "I believe the public can see for themselves from TV news reports the seriousness of the situation. The [Hong Kong] government strongly condemns such violent acts. The police will apprehend the mobs and bring them to justice."
The Hong Kong police also said in a statement that they were ignored when they warned protesters to disperse, and then responded by using force.
This sent to me by many Hong Kong friends: police do nothing for Lee Bo, use full force for #fishballrevolution pic.twitter.com/sj1ATU2sob — Benjamin Haas 本雅明 (@haasbenjamin) February 9, 2016
In the wake of the 2014 protests, activists have expressed concern that Hong Kong's local culture has been under threat from Beijing's government, which has increasingly imposed on Hong Kong's greater cultural and political freedoms compared to China's mainland.
Last night's riots demonstrated that something as seemingly innocuous as a celebratory fishball can serve as a much bigger symbol of a city's right to self-govern. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.