Monday, February 23, 2009

Stephen & Stitt; Lions among men

Image of the HSBC flagship operation in Hong Kong.Dear Gentle Reader,

Normally, people look up when they get here.

Here being HSBC's flagship operation in Hong Kong.

Or, people look in their jacket or purse to get their wallet out to visit the most used ATMs in the world.

(The Chief Economist of HSBC Bank Canada, about a decade ago, told me that the maximum lifespan of these ATMs, then, was a couple of months, and that some last only a few weeks, as they were used so often...)

People do not normally notice Stephen and Stitt.

Stephen and Stitt who?

Looks like we need to do some talking...

First, open your wallet.

Pull out some bills.

Ideally, you will be in Hong Kong right now. If you are not, I had better help you.

Partial image of a 100 Hong Kong Dollar Bill, cropped, and digitally obscured to prevent counterfeiting charges....In Hong Kong, paper currency is printed by HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, and the Bank of China. All three are privately owned banks.

(Legal note: This partial image of less than one side of a 100 HKD bill is cropped and digitally obscured to prevent your humble scribe running afoul of counterfeiting legislation. Also, fair use doctrines are invoked to show the portion of the currency which I do show. I need this image to communicate the message I want to communicate, and I have obscured the portions not neccesary.)

Who is that big guy on the left of the banknote?

That is Stitt.

Who do people coming to HSBC ignore?

They ignore Stitt.

They also ignore Stephen.

Image of Stephen, the lion you see on your left when staring at HSBC HQ in Hong Kong.
Stephen is the lion on your left when you stand in front of HSBC Hong Kong's flagship tower.

Stitt (the ignored) sits opposite Stephen on the other side of HSBC's entry square.

For those with incredibly short memories, Stitt, not Stephen, is the lion on the HKD bank notes printed by HSBC such as the 100 HKD note that you saw farther above, cropped and obscured.

In the picture below it looks like that crowd around Stitt might be looking at him, and thus not ignoring him...

Image of Stitt, the lion you see on your right when staring at HSBC HQ in Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, looks are deceiving. These people were really using him as a seat and as a place to put their food, books and things.

This was a small group of domestic helpers on a Sunday who had simply found a place to sit and hang out for the day.

Stephen and Stitt were cast in 1935 for the new HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong.

Stephen was named after A.G. Stephen, the General Manager of the Hong Kong HSBC operations at the time. Stitt was named after the General Manager of the Shanghai HSBC operations at the time.

When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong in the second world war, 1941-1945, poor Stephen was used as target practice.

Image of Second World War damage done to Stephen by Japanese forces using him as target practice.
Stitt initially escaped unscaped, but then both Stephen and Stitt were hauled off to Japan to be melted down for their metal (for Japan's war effort).

Thankfully the war ended before Stephen and Stitt were melted.

They were identified by Allied Forces and returned to HSBC where they resumed their stance, protecting HSBC and securing its financial future.

OK. Before we leave, let's stray from history to myth...

Popular culture has it that Stitt, whose mouth is closed, originally had his mouth open, just like Stephen. But...

Popular culture has it that the geomancers realized that, due to Stitt's (and Stephen's) orientation being sideways, not in the standard Chinese Imperial Guardian Lion style with head facing forward, away from the building, that Stitt might imbibe the Eastern Wind at night.

Imbibe the Eastern Wind at night?

He might become, in Western parlance, a zombie lion.

As you can imagine, a zombie lion could, potentially, cause public unrest.

So, popular culture says, Stitt was recast to avoid the possibility of him imbibing the Eastern Wind an night. And that, says popular culture, is why Stitt has his mouth shut.

When your humble scribe meets the Chief Archivist for HSBC at a Royal Asiatic Society meeting, (it seems the type of place that one would meet the Chief Archivist) then this is a question your humble scribe will be sure to ask.



debra said...

Ah, Chris, I am so glad that Stitt cannot imbibe the Eastern Wind at night. Very interesting post. Thanks.

Barrie said...

That is all so wild. You come up with the most interesting MTM posts!

simmers said...

you've been casing this bank quite frequently lately...
should we be worried?
should hsbc be worried?
tell me you're finally putting your genius towards evil pursuits.
I'm so in...what's the plan?

Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a delightful post, Sepiru Chris! I am so glad that Stephen and Stitt were rescued.

Junosmom said...

What an interesting story. And you are right, it would be just the kind of think people would pass daily without a thought, missing all that history and culture right before their eyes. If ever I come to HK, I'll be sure to pay my respects to these stately creatures.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Always amazing what enemy forces try to do to the artwork and such in invaded cities.

Mary said...

Sepiru Chris, thanks for telling us the fascinating story of Stitt! I'm also fascinated by the tidbits about what parts of the money you can and can't photograph.

T and S said...

You have presented this information in such a vivid fashion. Loved your narration and the pictures ofcourse

Travis Erwin said...

Great stuff Chris. Love the imbibing of the wind folklore.

Cloudia said...

What a cool post!
Related to the New York Library lions?
How about the MGM lion?
How about Pommes?
Really enjoyed this, scribe.

Sepiru Chris said...


I am equally relieved, although I am curious as to what a cast bronze zombie lion could do...


Well, thanks


Come over and I'll tell you about while hiking...


So were they. Stitt gets heat rash around smelters. PTSD.


Maybe I'll do a follow-up for tomorrow... because these guys like to have "respect" paid...

Patti Nase,

Have to raze before you can build. And the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏) was all about regime change for economic/industrial gain...


You're welcome. I hope I showed little enough...

T and S,

Glad you enjoyed it.


Ditto for me.


Kissing cousins maybe? Of course the NY Public Lions were made of pink Tennessee marble, so how far apart are kissing cousins in Tennessee? Besides a tooth width? I think will have to do a follow up.


Heidelweiss said...

Stephen is my fave because he survived the target practice without becoming angry (he looks pretty nice). They are both beautiful and should I ever go to Hong Kong, I shall visit them and pet their manes.

bindu said...

That's fascinating information. I'm sure I'd have passed by these two without too much interest. Should remember to not hurt their feelings when I visit Hong Kong.

SweetTalkingGuy.. said...

Phew, so glad that they didn't get melted down...

The NaisaiKu.. Challenge!

Sepiru Chris said...


You're sure there is not another reason you are partial to a Stephen or a Steven...

Visit with your lead counsellor and I will lead you to the manes...


Just don't open fire on them. As to keeping them happy, tomorrow's post explains and details the appropriate procedures to maintain lion happiness.


So were they. Talk about PTSD. You couldn't approach these two pusses with a candle or a lighter for years.


Barbara Martin said...

Many people walk past historical objects or statutes all the time without knowing the history behind them. And then Chris provides this nice story about Stephen and Stitt.