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HONG KONG • Cute cartoon animals have been at the heart of Hong Kong clothing brand Chickeeduck since 1990, displayed on everything from T-shirts and tote bags to baby rompers and pillows.
But owner Herbert Chow is now struggling to get his designs made in China, where products featuring his avian characters have been seized by the authorities for “advocating violence”.
Mr Chow, 57, was preparing for the Chinese New Year shopping season earlier this year when he was informed that a shipment of about 10,000 Chickeeduck items had been seized in the mainland.
“My manufacturer said the Customs department found the products were advocating violence in social movements,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) after recently deciding to go public.
At first glance, the illustrations on the products seem innocuous. They include cushions with yellow birds holding umbrellas alongside “I love HK” speech bubbles, and canvas bags featuring five ducklings swimming on one side and a flag-bearing chicken on the other.
But for those familiar with Hong Kong’s recent tumultuous politics, the designs are a clear nod to the city’s democracy movement, which is now being swept away by China’s crackdown on dissent.
Mr Chow makes no secret of his messaging. The tote bag, for example, is a reference to the popular protest slogan of “Five demands, not one less”. But he says he is baffled that such designs would be deemed illegal.
“I don’t see what’s wrong with the message,” he said. “I don’t know what business the Chinese authorities have in trying to stop something like this from going to Hong Kong.”
Mr Chow’s predicament illustrates how much the landscape has changed in the semi-autonomous city since 2019’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
As he was speaking with AFP, Hong Kong’s Customs department announced at a press conference the seizure of nearly 9,000 items from grocery chain AbouThai.
The authorities said the items – mostly imported from Thailand – failed to carry proper warning labels in Chinese.
AbouThai was founded by pro-democrac