‘The Father of Lap Sap Chung’: Arthur Hacker’s Whimsical Portrayals of Hong Kong
In the 1970s, the mischievous green mascot known as Lap Sap Chung (‘litterbug’) became the face of the Clean Hong Kong campaign. Although intended as an antagonist, the Arthur Hacker-designed litterbug became a beloved symbol of Hong Kong’s broader attempts to bolster civic pride and environmental awareness
The 1970s was a crucial era for the formation of Hong Kong’s identity. In response to the political unrest following the 1967 riots, the Hong Kong government launched a series of campaigns aimed at promoting social stability and development. These initiatives included the Festival of Hong Kong, the ramping up of public housing construction, the founding of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), recruitment for the Royal Hong Kong Police, and other activities. A number of the publicity materials for these campaigns were designed by Arthur Hacker. Apart from promoting the government’s policies and publicity events through his work, Hacker illustrated Hong Kong’s colonial history with his distinctive minimalistic style and unique sense of humour in his own books and posters.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Hacker graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts and had been a designer at Philips Records and an artistic director at the Evening Standard. When he arrived in Hong Kong in 1967, he became the artistic director of the Information Services Department (ISD) and was quickly put in charge of a major publicity drive for the ‘Keep Hong Kong Clean Campaign’. The campaign was originally launched by the Hong Kong government in 1948 with the aim of improving the city’s cleanliness and hygiene awareness. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the cartoon character ‘Miss Ping On’ was used as the face of the campaign to teach the public about everything from mosquito prevention measures to proper teeth-brushing techniques. In 1970, the government established a territory-wide committee for the Keep Hong Kong Clean Campaign, and Miss Ping On was eventually retired, making way for ‘Lap Sap Chung’—the beloved litterbug created by Hacker.
With bottle-green skin dotted with red bumps and boasting a plump tummy, Lap Sap Chung looks more like a tiny dragon than what is suggested by his name. Although he is known for misbehaving and creating a literal mess, there is a certain affability that goes beyond this grubby mascot’s gnarly appearance. Not only was Lap Sap Chung featured on printed matters, he starred in television commercials that featured a song performed by singer Frances Yip and even appeared in skits where he was often publicly chased and punished for littering. Since Lap Sap Chung’s introduction, the messy menace has become a widely known and loved character in Hong Kong. Hacker made over 300 preliminary drafts of Lap Sap Chung. He also dedicated a significant amount of effort into designing the ‘Keep Hong Kong Clean’ logo, which featured a broom set in between two triangles that represent the garbage to be swept away.
‘Exhibiting elements of both street performance and graphic design, Lap Sap Chung was a large-scale event in itself. Aiming to resonate with younger generations, the playful publicity campaign referenced pop culture. For example, the character took on the cartoonish form of Godzilla and was often accompanied by “Miss Super Clean”, a group of energetic ladies who tackled Lap Sap Chung,’ reflects Tina Pang, Curator of Hong Kong Visual Culture at M+.
Illustrating Hong Kong with a Unique Perspective
During his 22 years of service at the ISD, Hacker created many other prominent posters and design works beyond those for Lap Sap Chung. In the book Hong Kong in Posters: A History of Public Service Advertising, he elaborates on his three main principles for poster design: simplicity, impact, and originality. For instance, his main-visual design for the Festival of Hong Kong in 1971 featured swirling stripes of red and white that embodied the Bauhinia flower. With a minimalistic composition and carnivalesque tone, the poster design was highly recognisable and versatile for applications across various media and publicity materials, thus creating a coherent visual identity for the whole event.
Apart from working for the ISD, Hacker was also a history buff who collected old photos and postcards of Hong Kong. He also published books and graphic design works about the city. One of his publications is British Hong Kong: Facts and Fable, a book that best exemplifies his humorous temperament. Every page features a landmark and a character accompanied by handwritten notes. These illustrations are supported by solid research yet presented with a hint of irony. One example is a quick sketch of Chris Patten, the last British governor in Hong Kong, and his dogs, Whisky and Soda. With a great sense of wit, Hacker’s notes detail Whisky’s valiant recovery after a malicious poisoning.
‘These paintings might seem simple, yet they employ a humorous way to tell the tales of Hong Kong’s history. The public tends to overlook graphic design works. As a museum, we hope to elevate the value of this discipline in the field of visual culture,’ Pang states.
Understanding Society through Graphic Design
Discussions about graphic design often focus on commercial designs, which usually boast more resources and are considered more ambitious than public designs. When curating Hong Kong: Here and Beyond, M+’s inaugural presentation of visual culture from the city, the M+ team did not only analyse the content and style of the designer’s works but made a conscious attempt to position his creations within the social context of Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s to create a better understanding of the social role of graphic design at the time. By examining a fuller picture of both public and commercial designs in the 1970s, viewers may gain a further glimpse into Hong Kong’s social development.
‘The trade embargo imposed on mainland China by the United Nations in the 1950s facilitated the development of Hong Kong’s light industry and manufacturing industry. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the government started modelling Hong Kong as an international tourism hub. Henry Steiner, an eminent designer at the time, was in charge of the image and visual design of the Peak Tram in the 1970s. The city was also in the spotlight at the Japan World Exposition ’70 held in Osaka, showcasing what was then a prominent Bauhaus-style graphic design spearheaded by Kan Tai-Keung,’ Pang explained. ‘At the same time, Hong Kong still had a lot of local issues to tackle, including the Keep Hong Kong Clean Campaign.’
It could be said that the Hong Kong government was determined to use graphic design to improve social development and promote Hong Kong’s culture and status globally. In doing so, it helped create a sense of national identity. With his distinctive and memorable designs, Hacker has played an instrumental part in this process. Not only did he create a memorable character, he has also become an indelible figure in the city’s contemporary history.
The Chinese version of this article was originally published on 22 September 2022 in the Hong Kong Economic Times. It is presented here in edited and translated form. Originally authored by Ho Kuai Sim, translated by Kelly Tang, and edited by Dorothy So. All works: M+, Hong Kong. Gift of the Estate and family of Arthur Hacker in his honour, 2019. © HKSAR Government
Arthur Hacker’s works are featured in the M+ presentation Hong Kong: Here and Beyond.