Hong Kong’s stock exchange has put the harsh truth about the stock market on its walls

A monumental wall installation at Hong Kong’s stock exchange is drawing criticism for being full of inauspicious symbols and references that could dent investors’ luck in the stock market.

The installation is part of the new HKEX Connect Hall, which was unveiled Tuesday (Feb. 20), the first trading day of the Year of the Dog. The grey walls of the 30,000 square-foot hall, which will host conferences where the former trading floor used to be, are decorated with over 1,000 Chinese characters that are made up of the component “shell” (貝).

Online, the design was quickly panned for resembling the interior of a columbarium, where funerary urns are kept, and also because many of the characters appeared to point to the dark side of the finance world. That struck many as out-of-sync with the sentiment of kung hei fat choy, the auspicious Cantonese phrase that wishes people good fortune and prosperity in the new year.

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A family pays respect to their ancestors at a columbarium, where ashes are housed. (Reuters)

In addition to positive characters such as “財” (fortune), “賺” (earn), “贏” (win), “賞” (reward), “賀” (congratulate), and “賢” (virtuous), there were a series of negative characters including “貧” (poverty), “貪” (greed), “賊” (thief), “賄” (bribe), “賤” (cheap, inferior, despicable, unworthy) and “賊贓” (stolen property).

Photos and criticisms of the wall installation went viral after the market closed on Tuesday with the Heng Sang Index falling by 241 points to 30,873. While many laughed at the design, others were less sanguine.

A post on the popular Facebook page PR Disaster about the unlucky design attracted over 100 comments. “The place that gives birth to fortune has been turned into a graveyard for the dead. This is a very bad omen,” wrote Facebook user William Chim.

“Just take it down,” commented another netizen, Sharon Li.

Digital marketer Jeff Tsui’s critical comments on Facebook had more than 1,000 shares and likes. He wrote: “Everything that could go wrong went wrong.”

Officials and guests attend a ceremony to mark the end of floor trading at the Hong Kong Exchanges in Hong Kong
Those were the days: the last day of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s trading floor on October 27, 2017. (Reuters)

HKEX told Quartz that the wall installation’s design was handled by the Chinese Museum of Finance, headquartered in Tianjin. The It also said the design was based around the “shell” character since shells were the earliest form of money and many Chinese characters relating to money and finance include “shell” (貝) as a prefix or a key component. “The positive and negative connotations of the various characters on display reflect the pros and cons of money,” said an HKEX spokesman.

The spokesman said that after taking into account the public’s feedback, HKEX will amend the wall’s design and change certain characters. The wall is located at the entrance of what will eventually be a museum of finance, slated to open in March.

But not everyone thought the design was totally bad. “What’s wrong with it? It’s very honest and realistic. It tells you that the stock market is just like a big casino,” wrote netizen Yip Chun Chris Tsang.

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