One of the two HSBC lions (the other is called Stitt –who knew?) which can be found outside the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong.
These two bronze lions are an enduring symbol of HSBC and Hong Kong, representing strength and stability. The lions are so synonymous with HSBC that locally the bank is affectionately known as "The Lion Bank.” Locals and tourists come to stroke the paws of the statues for luck and prosperity and the lions even appear on Hong Kong banknotes.
Safe to say, these guys are a pretty big deal in Hong Kong.
So – in 2016 HSBC decided to use the city’s icons to make a bold statement that no one could ignore, inviting everyone to join the conversation about LGBT progress, inclusion and unity – something which is still a taboo subject in Hong Kong today.
HSBC commissioned two replica sculptures to be made and decorated by local LGBT artist Michael Lam with the condition that the artist needed to work in collaboration with a Feng Shui Master to incorporate Feng Shui designs and principles into the works for good luck and prosperity. The works were then blessed by the master at their unveiling in November 2016.
The replica of Stephen, named the Pride Lion, was painted in stripes inspired by the Pride flag, while the Stitt replica, the Unity Lion, was painted in circles representing unity in diversity.
HSBC had three main objectives to the campaign:
1. Spark conversation for LGBT inclusion in Hong Kong.
2. Position HSBC as a bold leader and champion of diversity and inclusion.
3. Encourage a culture of diversity and inclusion within the organisation.
When installed in November 2016, the works caused mass outrage in the city with people threatening to close their accounts and claimed the bank were trampling on traditional family values.
A petition with over 10,000 signatures were signed demanding their removal but HSBC stood their ground, and the works remained in place stating:
“Understanding and embracing everyone’s unique perspectives, beliefs and experiences is core to HSBC’s values. This campaign demonstrates our commitment to achieving a truly open and diverse working environment and we are confident it will continue driving the conversation beyond our own walls to our clients, peers and wider community.”
Thousands more expressed their support for the campaign and the works made news around the world. At one point, people were queueing for an hour to get a selfie with Stephen and Sttit in all their pride glory!
HSBC also projected images of the rainbow lions onto the banks 180 meter screens outside of their offices in Hong Kong as well as projecting images of the lions out onto the cities Victoria Harbour. It's estimated over 2 million people per night saw these projections.
Despite the mass support for the lions, sadly, they were removed and replaced with the originals after concerned shareholders demanded their removal.
Although in place for a few weeks, the pride lion's impact was felt across the world and the results speak for themselves.
By sparking a debate which was well over due in the city, and by standing their ground, HSBC's employee's stood by the company's decision to keep the lion's in place for as long as possible. The bank even projected messages of support by their employees above the lions so the public knew their employees stood with them. This reached news channels across the world.
The campaign saw a active growth in their Pride Employee Network by a staggering 340% taking it to over 2000 members.
Not a bad knock on effect from two rainbow lions.
I conducted this research as part of my Art History mini-series - The Art of Pride for my Instagram account: Jo's Art History.
I find the story behind these lions so inspiring.
It's not only a tale and display of beating the drum for equality but it should serve as a blue print for how other companies need to stand up in the face of discrimination, even if it appears to be bad business - although if any company in the world thinks fighting and advocating for equal rights and inclusion is bad business, Karma is a bitch and they deserve everything that comes to them !
No one has ever made history or a change by sitting in a corner quietly - you need to make noise. And it just so happens, these roars were heard world wide.
JM June 2020
Great Video on the project if you have a spare 60 seconds: