Hong Kong’s first adult-only carnival, 18+ Central, could be its last at its present location.
Complaints from two “shocked” pro-establishment lawmakers, and a family concern group led by the father of famed Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, have put the event’s future in doubt.
And, prompted by the complaints and fears over the impact the event could have on public morals, and the city’s image, the Development Bureau is now promising to consider a tightening of the rules surrounding what type of event can be held at the Central Harbourfront site where it is taking place.
In total, city officials have received almost 70 complaints about 18+ Central, which is being held inside two giant tents at the heart of Hong Kong’s central business district, and features a host of erotica including male strippers, pole dancers, female Japanese porn stars and an artist who paints with his penis.
The Development Bureau received about 30 of those complaints, with another 36 being made to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department by Friday.
Meanwhile, Vertical Expo Services (VES), which organised the event and marketed it as being for Hong Kong’s “women and young couples”, said it expected as many as 35,000 visitors to pass through the gates before the event ends on Sunday.
Kenny Lo, chief executive of VES, said the company had obtained an entertainment licence and would comply with the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance.
“The lack of such an event in the past simply showed Hong Kong was very backward, compared to major cities in mainland China and overseas,” Lo said.
Among those who have objected are Executive Council members Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, both Hong Kong Island lawmakers, who suggested the Development Bureau should ban similar future events at the site, and criticised VES for not consulting the Harbourfront Commission beforehand.
“We don’t really want any sleazy … activity to take place in the most prestigious and beautiful parts of our city, which is the harbourfront,” Ip said.
Ip, while questioning whether the show was compatible with public morals and Hong Kong’s image as a “sophisticated and clean city”, said she was not entirely against the concept, but felt Mong Kok might have been a more appropriate setting.
“It might be good for business and tourism for Hong Kong to host some adult shows, [but] the harbourfront is adjacent to Hong Kong’s prime business district, and government and legislative headquarters,” she said.
“Entertainment activities are OK, but if it [an event] has strong adult content which could adversely affect the image of Hong Kong, or is inconsistent with the [family feel of the] area adjacent to the harbourfront, I think we should have second thoughts.”
Cheung, also a member of Central and Western District Council, said he had received many complaints from angry constituents.
“I was really shocked about [the event], the Development Bureau should be the gatekeeper on what constitutes public interest,” he said.
The 35,750-square-metre space, adjacent to the 60-metre-high Hong Kong Observation Wheel, had previously hosted the Formula E race, concerts and carnivals featuring rides and games.
Frankie Ngan Man-yu, a member of the Harbourfront Commission, which is responsible for advising the government on the management of the city’s harbourfront “in the best interest of the public”, said the body was not informed about the event beforehand.
Another member, Tony Tse Wai-chuen, said the commission would not have supported the show if it had been consulted. “I was quite upset … The harbourfront, as a valuable site, should be enjoyed by all,” the surveyor said.
A spokeswoman for the Development Bureau said organisers were not required to consult the commission on individual events.
However, she added that in light of the “mixed views” towards the recent show, the bureau would consult the commission and the district council on possible refinement of the existing tenancy arrangement with Central Venue Management, the firm which runs the Central Harbourfront Event Space under a short-term tenancy from 2014 to 2020.
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“We will consider the need for imposing additional conditions for events to be held for targeted groups,” she said. “We will [also] discuss with the operator and seek its cooperation in taking heed of public views in considering what activities should be staged at the site.”
Not everyone objected to the carnival, pro-establishment lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung saying the event was “acceptable” as long as the organisers made sure the show was for adults only.
“The site has to be used anyway … Hong Kong, as a convention and exhibition hub, should allow different types of show to be held,” Kwok said.
The complaints came as the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group, led by Roger Wong Wai-ming, launched a campaign last week to urge residents to make complaints to the commission, politicians, the government, and CVM.
Wong, the group’s convenor, said that hosting an adult show at the venue set a “bad precedent”.
In response, CVM managing director Maureen Earls said it is her company’s aim to curate “as wide a range of events as possible so that all residents‘ interests can be met, creating an active and vibrant harbourfront”.
She added: “For those who choose not to enter the event, they may continue to enjoy the Central waterfront without any objectionable images coming to view.”