Yellow Economic Circle
In Hong Kong, shops and restaurants are now being labeled either yellow or blue, where “yellow” refers to shops that support the ongoing anti-government social movement and “blue”, refers to shops in support of the Hong Kong Police Force. Visiting yellow shops has become a daily routine for pro-democracy Hong Kongers, leading to the formation of the Yellow Economic Circle. Thus, leading to a big economic impact.
The idea of the Yellow economic circle stems from the concept of Identity Economics suggested by George A. Akerlof, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 and Rachel E. Kranton. Under the prototype model of economic interaction, people tend to incorporate their identity into a general model of behavior which then influences their economic habit. When a person learns a set of values, he or she will internalize it and actions performed will conform with the behavior of people with the same identity.  Applying this theory in contemporary Hong Kong society, people supporting democracy tend to have a strong sense of belonging to their identity and thus will only spend money on shops that share the same value.
In July 2019, an advertisement that poked fun at local police removing notes from a “Lennon Wall” was published by Yoshinoya, a Japanese food chain. The company’s Hong Kong branch then sacked the employees for creating that advertisement. Since then, people who support the protestors started boycotting Yoshinoya.
The same month in 2019, a captain from Cathay Pacific made an announcement reassuring his passengers about the airport protests by telling them the demonstration was very peaceful and orderly. He ended with a few words in Cantonese saying “Hongkongers add oil, be careful and stay safe.” He was then reported to have left the airline, without mentioning whether he resigned or was fired. Cathay Pacific was then criticized for the alleged political bias.
Through these incidents, citizens supporting the protests started to develop its own economic circle by boycotting blue shops and only patronize yellow shops. Several smartphone applications were produced to indicate the stance and location of restaurants in order to help citizens avoid spending money on shops that share an opposing stance, such as “和你eat”, “WhatsGap”, etc.
Criteria for becoming a yellow shop
“Hong Kong’s Rice Pig Guide” is used to identify restaurants that support the anti-government protests. Several criteria are used to label shops as yellow, for instance, restaurant participating in citywide general strikes, helping protestors financially through donating money to the 612 Fund or the Spark Alliance, donating food or protection gear to protestors, setting up Lennon Wall for customers to stick their post-it’s on and so on.
Edward Yau Tang-wah, the Commerce and Economic Development Secretary of Hong Kong criticized the yellow economic circle by doubting the economy could last. A pro-establishment Hong Kong businessman, Shih Wing-ching also mentioned that the yellow economy is not feasible and will further divide Hong Kong society without creating any economic benefits.
People’s Daily, an official news outlet in China also condemned the yellow economic circle as a shame in the civilized society. It undermines citizens’ rights to choose what they want to buy or eat and at the same time an act that spreads hatred.
Effectiveness of the Yellow Economic Circle
The owner of a shop that sells dried seafood said that by setting up a local economic circle, they can prove to the others that Hongkongers can do their business in their own way instead of needing help from China.
Many international observers stress that Hong Kong’s economy has been declining due to the long-lasting civil unrest. Yet, the emergence of the yellow economic circle shows that the declining economy is not applicable to the yellow shops. While shops being branded as blue are facing difficulties in maintaining their business, for instance at least 71 restaurants or bakeries from Maxim’s Catering Group suspended their operations five days in a row in November.  “Yellow-ribbon” shops are benefitted from the protests on the contrary. One of the famous yellow restaurants, Lung Mun Café was found to have many citizens queuing in front of their stores every day. On the other hand, the effectiveness of the yellow economic circle is found in the stock market as well. There is a drastic increase in stick performance for HKTV Mall whereas a weak performance from TVB. (TVB is known for its biased news reporting and HKTV Mall is known as supporting the protestors.) As a result, it is shown that the yellow economic circle is not affected much by the overall declining economy in Hong Kong as yellow businesses can be sustained by Hongkongers sharing the same value.
- George A. Akerlof, Rachel E. Kranton, Economics and Identity, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 115, Issue 3, August 2000, Pages 715–753, https://doi.org/10.1162/003355300554881
- SCMP. Yoshinoya Hong Kong steams at local advertising agency as disputes over extradition bill roil local workplace. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3018423/yoshinoya-hong-kong-steams-local-advertising-agency
- HKFP. Cathay Pacific pilot who went viral for telling Hongkongers to "keep it up" no longer with the airline. https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/08/21/cathay-pacific-pilot-went-viral-telling-hongkongers-add-oil-no-longer-airline/
- HKFP. In Hong Kong, local entrepreneurs champion the pro-democracy cause. https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/12/28/hong-kong-local-entrepreneurs-champion-pro-democracy-cause/
- The Standard. Economist reckons 'yellow economy' could endure. https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/3/139168/Economist-reckons-&
- Writer slammed over yellow economy, vandalism link. https://asiatimes.com/2019/12/writer-slammed-over-yellow-economy-vandalism-link/
- Yellow or Blue? In Hong Kong, Businesses Choose Political Sides. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/19/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-yellow-blue.html
- At least 71 restaurants/shops owned by Maxim’s Catering are closed for business today, 10 more suspended until further notice. https://www.dimsumdaily.hk/at-least-71-restaurants-shops-owned-by-maxims-catering-are-closed-for-business-today-10-more-suspended-until-further-notice/
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