Illuminography: a Survey of the Pictorial Language of Hong Kong’s neon signs

Sze Hang Kwok, Anneke Coppoolse

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This article draws from a larger archival project in which still existing neon signs in much of Hong Kong’s Kowloon peninsula have been photographed and subsequently preserved in the context of their imminent disappearance from the streets. Following the implementation of stricter regulations on sign sizes, the rise of cheaper and energy efficient LED solutions and urban redevelopment, Hong Kong’s neon signs have an uncertain future. This article examines graphic forms of a range of icons and symbols used on neon signs plus their meanings. As Hong Kong’s spectacular neonscape is (and was) a symbol of prosperity and consumerism, individual signs, icons and symbols of another kind present their own narratives. This article considers the relationship between icons and the city that they have prided for decades; specifically, it looks at its unique eclecticism. It reveals how a seeming spectacle of hues, lights, and images presents a story about Hong Kong’s bicultural heritage. Indeed, what it intends to highlight is that even though neon signage is a Western technology and although it was used quite specifically in the context of consumerism, Hong Kong’s adaptation indicates an eclecticism that has maintained traditional Chinese symbolism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalVisible Language
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


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