Struggles of Busking in Hong Kong: Are Regulations Necessary?

Street performance, widely known as busking, has become a popular trend in recent years. The act of performing in public places is legal in pedestrian areas, with no regulations or licenses required. However, buskers still face difficulties while performing in public areas, as street performance has also caused conflicts to arise among members of the public.

Buskers attracting tourists. Photo: Iris Wong.

In Hong Kong, the most popular areas of busking are Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Causeway Bay, which are all busy areas with many pedestrians using the street. Some performers have been accused of generating nuisance near Sai Yeung Choi Street, Mongkok. Residents insist that they have higher priority over the street performers in using the street, considering the fact that they are the ones paying the rent every day, while performers are using the street for free.

Performers are hoping that the free use of public areas for busking will not be restricted since it will be difficult for them to relocate their performing venues without losing the regular supporters they have gained over the years.

Street performers in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Iris Wong.

Oliver Ma, a 21-year-old fulltime busker, revealed some of the difficulties he encounters during his daily street performance. His main challenges are the competition over space with other buskers as well as people complaining about high volume levels to the police, which causes a ban on the performances from time to time. Such challenges have mainly risen from the unclear guidelines for buskers on the use of performing areas and the insufficiency of performance venues within the city.

In 2010, the Hong Kong government launched a six-month programme called “Open Stage Pilot” to provide more venues for street performances. Performers could choose to perform in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the Sha Tin Town Hall or the Kwai Tsing Theatre for a two-hour session on weekends and on public holidays between 10 am to 10 pm after passing an audition held by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

The scheme, however, was discontinued due to low usage, further limiting the choices of performance venues and posing tighter restrictions to performers. In a similar manner, the Street Performance Scheme held by the West Kowloon Cultural District has not proven popular among performers.

More specific regulations or licensing systems are suggested based on successful examples in foreign countries. In London, street performances are regulated with a voluntary system called “Busker’s code”, which entails general guidelines for buskers and the public to prevent conflicts. The British government has also clearly stated the legal age of busking to be 14 years old, put a ban on collecting money and issued special requirements for licenses in different areas of London.

Time restriction for pedestrians using Sai Yeung Choi Street. Photo: Iris Wong.

Since November 2013, the opening hours of the pedestrian area in Sai Yeung Choi Street have been shortened to weekends and holidays in order to cope with the intensifying complaints from nearby residents.

It is possible that the anger of the general public has been eased with the policy aiming to reduce negative influences caused by street performances. However, it also hinders the already limited opportunities for buskers in Hong Kong, as competition for venues is more fierce under such changes in regulations. The balance of rights between performers, other pedestrians, and residents is key when considering modifications of existing rules and the launch of any new regulations.

 

Editor: Christy

Author: Iris

Copy Editor: Emil

Content Manager: Aegean

 

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