Photo Essay

Weekend Review: Handwritten signboards reveal Hong Kong's culture and history

Two of our reporters joined traditional signboard calligrapher Lee Kin-ming on a tour to rediscover the hidden gems of Hong Kong on signboards along streets in San Po Kong.

This is a rare handwritten n advertisement board in Hong Kong. According to signboard calligrapher Lee Kin-ming, there has been a hidden rule in signboard design that only two kinds of word fonts can be used on one signboard. However, the calligrapher of this signboard demonstrates excellent techniques because it does not look complicated even with an array of word fonts used.
This protruding signboard made in 1965 uses cement. The logo (on the left) next to the characters consists of rectangular and triangular blocks. They form the shape of the English name of the building - "Lead On."
Signboard makers like to cover wooden Chinese word characters with plastic because it makes the characters light enough to hang on the board and it is simple to make.
The Chinese character, "Wing" (as pronounced in Cantonese), is engraved on a piece of flagstone, which is usually used in constructions or in making headstones.
This is the signboard of a key-cutting store. The shape of the signboard symbolises the nature of the specific service or product the store sells.
Some shops have their principles written on their signboards to share their ideas with the public.
"You can tell the minibus driver to stop at "red A" and he will know what you mean," says Lee Kin-ming, the signboard calligrapher. For some significant and easily recognisable signboards, they become landmarks in neighbourhoods.
The white paint at the back is coming off bits by bits due to extensive weathering over the years, however, the Chinese characters of the name of the Trade Union Association remain because they are painted in more long-lasting red paint.
All Chinese characters on the signboards of Tin Hing Pawn Shop on Kam Wing Street feature the Beiwei font. Some of them are decorated with neon lights around in order to be more eye-catching.
Signboard calligrapher Lee Kin-ming says the colour for the words on the signboard of an elderly home must not be in red because people of older generations usually deem the colour red, which implies blood, an unlucky sign.
According to signboard calligrapher Lee Kin-ming , the Basic Law was a trendy social topic in Hong Kong back in the 1980s. He recalls conversations with the shop owner of the Haemorrhoid centre, he says they use the Chinese name of the Basic Law as a gimmick to advertise themselves on their signboard.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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