Community & Education HKFP Lens

HKFP Lens: Chinese whiskers! ‘Shop cats’ are the emperors of Hong Kong’s traditional trades

Hong Kong’s shop cats are the little emperors of their retail kingdoms. When photographer Marcel Heijnen moved to the city he was immediately drawn to these photogenic mouse-hunters.

While the cats are undoubtedly the furry celebrities of his photographs, each shot gives focus to one of Hong Kong’s traditional trades. From dried fish and rice to paper offerings, the backdrop of each image presents a portrait of Hong Kong’s local culture.

The cats are believed to be lucky by their owners. While some were sought out by the owners for their hunting skills, other cats made the decision to adopt a shop themselves, by just turning up and making it their home.

Many shopkeepers have grown to love their feline companions. Not only for the company they offer, but also for their business skills.

The cats, especially the playful ones, bring customers into the store by providing a friendly welcome. They create an extra bond with the customers and can even exert some of their mysterious influence in boosting sales. It seems the cats’ lucky reputation is more than just a legend.

“In most modern cities there will be all kinds of rules and regulations against cats in shops. Not in Hong Kong, and I’m grateful for that. Here we can still witness this wonderful symbiotic relationship between human and feline, and the very reason for it harks back to why we domesticated cats in the first place, centuries ago: mice-catching and companionship.”

“And yes, it’s about the cats. But it kind of isn’t at the same time. It’s just as much about the context; these chaotic-yet-organically-organised traditional Chinese shops that form beautiful photogenic subjects in their own right.”

“Places in which time seems to have stood still, devoid of branding and all the other modern-day retail trickery we’ve grown accustomed to.”

Marcel Heijnen is a photographer, designer and musician. Originally from the Netherlands, he has called Asia his home since 1992. Self- taught in nearly everything he does, Marcel’s creativity is driven by a general curiosity about life and its meaning. He will hold an exhibition and a book launch on December 9-11. Follow this link to see more from this project.

HKFP Lens: Chinese whiskers! 'Shop cats' are the emperors of Hong Kong's traditional trades