A yellow umbrella. A Guy Fawkes mask. A bauhinia flower. These are just a few of the now immediately recognizable symbols of Hong Kong’s months of protests, in which millions have taken to the streets.
Attempts to clamp down on the demonstrators, and their icons, reached risible levels this weekend after an elaborately crafted confection supporting the protests was disqualified from a Cake International decorating competition in Birmingham, England. The creation featured a tiny protester bearing a yellow umbrella and a large confectionary mask. Liquid nitrogen, designed to look like tear gas, swirled from behind the umbrellas.
The work was disqualified on the grounds that “the message behind” it had been “viewed as offensive and led to complaints from attendees,” according to an email posted to social media.
The baker is reportedly connected to the Hong Kong brunch restaurant 3rd Space, which takes its name from “a postcolonial sociolinguistic theory that celebrates the uniqueness of the individual,” according to a Time Out review. In an Instagram story, representatives from the café said they had been “DQ”—disqualified—and accused the competition organizers of hypocrisy.
In a Facebook post, Cake International said that it had received “complaints” about the cake’s content, “with some threatening to damage the piece.” But the cake had been disqualified, it added, for breaking the rules: The tiny umbrellas perched on the edge of it “overhang the allowed area” and are thus oversized. The company denied that it was censoring the cake:
“Cake International is an inclusive community and welcomes entries from across the world, this competition entry was not removed as a political statement but was disqualified as a direct result of it not being made in line with our competition schedule.
We appreciate that this situation is sensitive and there are many passionate views across the world, our decisions are based purely on what is in the best interest for the cake decorating community and not as a statement of our beliefs or opinions.”
The post has received thousands of reactions in just a few hours, with some commenters observing that they had “seen many in the past that were not to schedule but never seen them removed.”
The complainant has since made herself known: Chen Yao, a Chinese competitor, said on the social media platform Weibo that she and four other Chinese women attending the event had reported the cake to the organizer. Chen, who wasn’t sure whether the cake got disqualified because of her complaint, said she did the right thing to defend China. “Some people questioned whether I was hurting others’ freedom of speech by doing so. I’d like to say, there is no such a thing as absolute freedom of speech, the freedom needs to be built upon the national interest,” she said (link in Chinese).
Online, many of Chen’s compatriots praised the five women as “beautiful, patriotic girls,” according to Chinese media outlets, including the state-owned Global Times.
Overtly political cakes are nothing new for the competition, which bills itself as the “the world’s greatest cake show.” A particularly lurid cake from this year’s event shows Donald Trump sitting alongside North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two men are dressed as babies, and Kim’s dungarees—in an unsubtle nod to the tensions between the Asian country and the rest of the world—feature a grinning cartoon bomb.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Chen Yao.