The flawed Hawker License Policy

By Kwong Po Yi

Photo retrieved from:



If you have ever been to Sheung Shui, the small district near the border, you must have heard of Choi Yuen Night Market, which is famed as ‘Shilin Night Market in Hong Kong’.  Hawkers without license cluster there and sell all kinds of street food, ranging from fried chicken cartilage to black pudding with chive.  However, early this year, these illegal hawkers got repelled in the name of harming public hygiene.  This action aroused public outcry and brought up discussion of revising hawker license.

Why is there public outcry?

The public concerns over this issue are mainly 2 folds.  First, this policy reduces their access to street food, which becomes increasingly rare in most residential areas in the territory.   Some may even relate the suppression of hawker practices to developer hegemony because the rent-free stalls are in conflicts with the interest of those big malls.  For example, hawkers of Choi Yuen Night Market operate their businesses on a footbridge, which is managed by the Link REIT, a real estate investment trust managing a number of shopping malls.   The Link REIT coordinated with Hawker Control Team and carried out raids on hawkers early this year, which caused the aforementioned outcry.


Regulations about hawker practices and its rationale

There are certain laws regulating hawker practices at present – the Itinerant Hawker License (IHL), which authorizes licensee to hawk in a mobile nature.  The current policy does not allow succession or transfer of IHL, which means that hawkers will gradually vanish on streets alongside the decease of the original licensee.    This law was enacted in 1970s in view of the overwhelming hawker practices and the deteriorating surroundings caused by them.  Since then, the government has been getting across the message of poor sanitation of illegal hawkers as a means of suppressing them.


To revise the policy or not?

In my own opinion, the government should revise the present policy.  It is flawed to conclude that hawkers do more harm than good to the public.  They literally do not affect public hygiene to a large extent whilst the benefits brought by their existence are manifest.  First, they bring about revival of local food culture.  This may even serve as a tourist attraction, which truly reflects indigenous characteristics of the district.  Moreover, it brings about social sustainability as hawkers can maintain themselves through their own business, and therefore rely less on societal resources.


Thus, the government should allow the continuity of the license, either by succession or transfer of it.   It can even consider issuing a few new licenses to cater for the need of potential hawkers while a ceiling of the number of licenses shall be set.  To ensure the hygiene of the food and surroundings, hawkers ought to acquire food hygiene certificates as well.  Hawker Control Team may conduct regular checks on the night markets and coordinate cleansing work with street cleansing department.

Furthermore, concerning the limited space for night markets, the government can look for public space that suits the operations of them.  It can as well negotiate with certain stakeholders, e.g. the Link REIT, for relaxing its restrictions on hawkers.



It is in the government’s best interest to review the policy.  Particularly, the government has failed to solve loads of social problems that arouse much loathing.  Giving out this little benefit may help ease public sentiment.




Apple Daily. (n.d.). 領匯封殺彩園夜市小販. Retrieved 3 23, 2014, from


Department of Information and Tourism,Taipei City Government. (n.d.). Shilin

Night Market . Retrieved 3 25, 2014, from Taipei Travel.Net:




Food and Environmental Hygiene Department . (n.d.). Pleasant Environment.

Retrieved 3 27, 2014, from Hawker Control Overview:



TheHouseNews. (2014, 2 7). 「最自由經濟體」的雙重標準. Retrieved 3 25,

2014, from最自由經濟體-的雙重標準


13 thoughts on “The flawed Hawker License Policy

  1. Kenny Chow (2012566197)

    Dear Po Yi,

    Thank you for your post. I personally find this aspect important because to many people, the food culture in Hong Kong is a major component of Hong Kong’s identity and I always find the vanishing of street food a pity to the new generation in Hong Kong and to the incoming tourists.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about revamping the current policy of issuing hawker license. At the same time, I would like to share my suggestion, which is to combine the hygiene rating of the hawkers with the renewal or continuance of the operating license. Firstly, hawkers are required to renew their license annually with a decent renewal fee imposed. The renewal process should include inspection of the cleanliness of the hawker. Hawkers will be required to obtain a minimum of B rate, for example, before getting their license approved. Moreover, the area of inspection should also include the location of the hawker, its tools and utensils and its method of preparing food. With such thorough inspection, the hygiene of the hawkers should be guaranteed and the image of hawker food could also be improved.

    All in all, I hope these policies could be implemented in order for the street food to survive.

    Thank you!

  2. Thank you Bowie for this interesting post. Hong Kong is famous for its street food and street hawkers has once been a local colour. It serves as a collective memory for most of the Hong Kong people and it is sad that the culture cannot be passed on to our future generation.

    I agree with you that the government should revise its current policy and loosen the restriction on food hawkers. However, it is not easily done. The most tricky part is about the land usage. Using private land is definitely not appropriate and developers are unlikely to grant any concession. Food hawkers tend to accumulate in areas with high pedestrian flow. Street hawking activities will create obstruction to passerby and cause nuisance to the neighborhood. Conflict of interests will also arise if the government provide public land for hawkers as it is a kind of commercial activities. For hawkers to legally operate business, they must incur a higher cost like rental, license etc. After balancing the benefits and costs, hawkers may not be attracted to apply for the license.

    Thank you.

  3. Lo Ka Fai (3035066182)

    Thanks for your posting. I personally agree with you that the government should allow the continuity of the hawker license. The street hawking has a long history in Hong Kong and most of the people in Hong Kong treat it as the collective memory. If the government revise the current policy and make it possible for hawkers to continue their hawker license, the social cohesion can probably be enhanced.

    Under the current regulation, the total number of hawker licenses was 7146 in 2008. Given the condition that the government has stopped issuing new licenses and the license will be cancelled upon the death of the license’s owner, it is predictable that the number of hawkers will only keep decreasing. And one day there will be no more hawkers in Hong Kong. With this in mind, I suggest that the government should revise the current policy and make it possible for the original licensees to trade and transfer their licenses to the new owners. If the original licensee is dead, his license would be re-available for bidding. It helps to maintain the number of hawkers in Hong Kong, even the total number of licenses available remain unchanged.

    Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene. (2009). Review on Hawker Licensing Policy. Retrieved from

  4. NG WING PO (3035064196)

    Thank you for your blog post.

    I think the mobile street hawker is one of the significant local culture in Hong Kong that should be preserved despite the fact that it does not meet the required hygenic standard. In my point of view, we should find a solution that can strike a balance between the interest of hawkers and the health of the public.

    Actually, I am a citizen from Kwun Tong where there is a temporary hawker bazaar at Mut Wah Street. Because of the demolishing of the old buildings, all the hawkers are moved into a newly built two-storey building near Kwun Tong MTR station so that they can continued with their business. Apart from the licensing issue talked about in the above comments, I think the government or town planner can take this as a reference for the street hawker at Sheung Shui, trying to find a suitable place for the hawkers to continue operating their business. This can solve the problem of hygiene and blocking the road that causing inconvenience to pedestrian. Residence there can also keep on enjoying their traditional street food.

    In the Kwun Tong case of relocation of affected hawkers, subsidies and allowances are provided for them as both the Kwun Tong and Sheung Shui hawkers are running at a relatively low cost. The URA can provide free storage space for their “cars” so that hawkers in Sheung Shui do not need to push their cars around anymore and causing any danger to the public when they are escaping from the hunt of FEHD.


  5. CHEUNG KAM YI (3035067801)

    Thank you for your post!

    I agree with you that the government should revise the present policy.

    First, street food shows the local food culture, and it is actually considered as a feature in Hong Kong, which is worthy to cherish and pass on to the next generations. The current regulation does not allow the transfer of hawker license, which eventually vanish this culture.

    Second, dating back to the 1970s, at that time, the government suppressed the hawkers mainly due to the overwhelming numbers of the hawker and the deteriorating surroundings brought by the hawkers. However, these reasons may not be applicable nowadays due to the changes in the past decades. As many of the young generations receive high level of education, many of them work in office or even in professional areas. With an increasing education level of the people, the number of hawkers will not be as much as that in the past, which there was an abundant of low-skilled workers relying on selling street food to earn a living. In addition, concerning the negative impacts on the surroundings, I believe the government can deal with it by regulations. The government can set a number of requirements, and only issue the license to those meeting these standards. This minimize the impacts cause to the surroundings.

  6. Liu Wing Yee Queenie (3035067784)

    Thank you very much for your inspiring blog post! The Hawker License Policy in Hong Kong is definitely a worth discussing one which may require careful scrutiny for adjustment!

    I am also in favor of your ideas that the current Hawker License Policy may have its flaws. The government should indeed strike a balance between ensuring public hygiene and promoting local food culture. It would be inhumane for the government to prohibit all small hawkers from operating using the excuse of creating public nuisance. Given that the law was enacted forty years ago as you have mentioned, it may not well reflect the current situation as there is no longer a myriad of hawker practices and they do not necessarily deteriorate the environment. Furthermore, I think the small scale operation of the hawkers will not be influential enough to hurt the economic interest of chain stores in huge shopping malls and hence the accusation over hawkers’ conflict of interest with big stores seem unjustifiable and weak.

    On the contrary, I think it would be a good idea for Hong Kong to develop a night market like those in Taiwan. Taiwan’s Shilin Night Market has proved its success in promoting local food culture and will help attract tourists. Instead of being natural substitutes, night market and shopping arcades can actually complement each other and bring more economic revenues to Hong Kong. It would also be encouraging for those self-financed hawkers to be able to continue with their craftsmanship and promote them to both the local and foreigners, which in turn bring them spiritual fulfilment.

    To conclude, I believe that as long as the government can strictly take enforcement actions against unhygienic street trading and illegal hawking activities, the issuance of more hawker license will be beneficial to the society as a whole.


  7. LEE HANSEONG (2010555699)

    Thank you for your very interesting post. In Korea, we are having similar problem. As Hong Kong, there are numerous people are come out, cook and sell their food on streets, and the act was started from long time ago, it is became one of the Korean culture and became one of the Korea tourists’ hot spot. However, Korean Government also trying to reduce those Hawkers on the street, especially in the big city like Seoul.

    In my opinion, the government should think about the value of the street food culture as they value the street hygiene a lot. I would suggest that, instead of kick them out of the street, as you suggested, they may need to set up special hygiene management requirement for those hawker, and yearly extendable hawker license, I would also suggest the government should settle a special tax law for the hawker, and encourage them to run their business by using the money collected to provide street cleaning service. This might be helpful to managing both the street food culture and the street hygiene.


  8. Mak Ho Yin (UID: 3035050470)

    Thank you for your post, Po Yi.

    As a lover of street food, I definitely oppose the repelling of hawkers. However, I do agree that the unlicensed hawkers may cause different problems to the society. Beside hygienic problem, the unlicensed hawkers clustering on the narrow bridge may also block the pathway and pose threats to the pedestrians.

    In my point view, instead of repelling them, I suggest the government to set up an official space in Sheung Shui and license the hawkers to sell food there. Under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, only if the food sold can conform to the safety and hygiene standards can the hawkers obtain the license for operating the business. Therefore, the government can filter those hawkers whose food cannot meet the standard and the hygienic problem can be solved. Secondly, setting up such official night market can prevent the hawkers from blocking the bridge and reduces safety problem. Moreover, regarding the past experience of Shilin Night Market, it proved that similar night market in Hong Kong have the potential of further developing into a brand new sightseeing and thus boosting the tourism of Hong Kong.


  9. Chung Hoi Man 2012516843

    Thank you for issuing this interesting post. I basically agreed that hawkers actually provide special foods to Hong Kong people and tourists. However, the hygiene and safety problem of hawking is still the most important issue. On the one hand, nearly all of the hawkers are illegal and against Itinerant Hawker License. On the other hand, the inappropriate food and water supply, improper waste disposal system for reducing insects and pests are against the Section 56 – Regulations as to Food and Drugs Hygiene.

    In order to effectively protect this vulnerable local activity, I think the Hong Kong government should refer the case of Singapore to set up a sustainable management system for the hawkers. A grading system is set up to rate the hawkers for cleanliness and food quality, so that they have the responsibility to protect the environment and citizens by reducing the problems of street garbage and crowed the pedestrians. The government should also issue more licenses to the street hawkers and provide training of hygiene and safety knowledge and practice to them (Elson Trinidad 2013).

    Moreover, the government should set up areas special for hawkers’ activities. An area that is away from streets, but an open area such as green parks, just likes Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo (HKBPE) in Victoria Park. In the long run, this brings more income for both the hawkers as profit and Hong Kong government as taxes.

    Elson Trinidad 2013, The Singapore Solution to L.A.’s Illegal Street Food Vending Problem. KCETLink. Reviewed on 4 April 2014.

  10. O Chun NAM 3035063518

    Thank you for sharing this issue to us.
    I think that the government should do more rather than the flaw hawker license to deal with the problem.

    Many of the small food stall that selling traditional street food are closed in recent years because of the high rental income. These shops actually opened for least decades but they cannot survive. Gradually, most of the shops in Hong Kong are monopolized by the large-chain groups. Some of the owner of these small food stall said that they are going to start their business in night market in Taiwan. Therefore, these traditional foods may start to disappear in Hong Kong.

    Therefore, the government may take Taiwan’s night market as an example. In this way, not only the original small food stall owner can set up their business here, but other hawker can also make their living. During lunar New Year, hawkers start their business in Sham Shui Po and attracted a lot of people to go there. This can actually shows that most of the citizens are willing to accept.

    In conclusion, I think that the government should try their best to keep the traditional food in Hong Kong before it is too late. Some issues such as hygiene problem may arise but it can be solved.


  11. Chu Hei Ling Eunice (3035066106)

    Thank you for bringing up this interesting topic about hawkers in Hong Kong.

    I agree with Po Yi that the government should amend the regulations of hawkers licenses. I believe that the hawkers on the streets selling delicious yet cheap food is one of the traditional practice that shapes Hong Kong. Big malls and identical brands has been conquering Hong Kong in high speed and what makes Hong Kong stands out from all the cosmopolitan cities in other parts of the world if even the most cultural food stalls are forced to close? It is true that the government does have to consider the hygiene problems resulted from hawkers food, but I believe that not allowing licenses to be continued is not the best option. The government should pay more attention on how to improve or guarantee the hygiene of hawkers food meeting the standards and strive to conserve this traditional practice that makes Hong Kong more unique.

    Apart from that, I believe the space issue is rather the focus. I do understand that big businesses may not want to have competition with hawkers and they usually have a larger bargaining power in terms of laws and negotiating with the governments. I think the government should not only entertain the problems raised by huge corporations but care more about the people, the public. As what Po Yi has mentioned, the government can negotiate with the related stakeholders, The Link, in this case, to share the spaces with hawkers at night. That will not affect the malls as they usually operate in the day time and hawkers can have a place that they can survive.

    Thank you once again for this blog post and hope hawker food can be maintained in this Pearl of the Orient.

  12. Annie Chan (2012559211)

    Thank you for your posting,

    I agree with you that the Hong Kong government should consider reactivate the Hawker License Policy or introduce a new one, not only to reserve and promote the local food culture, but also to improve the well being of the general public and social harmony.

    Apart form the Choi Yuen Night Market in Sheung Shui, hawker problem is also a long-existing and debatable issue in Tin Shui Wai. Being the eight new town in Hong Kong that should have been carefully planned and constructed, Tin Shui Wai is somehow ironically built in a way in favour of consortium, instead of the well-being of the community. Walking around in Tin Shui Wai, hardly could we find any small local-style businesses, shops or markets, since most, if not all, shops are packed in fortress-style malls, which are operated under capitalism. Especially after the public listing of the Link REIT in 2005, the shopping centres have come to be dominated by large chains while small local shops have mostly been forced out of business by the exorbitant rent increases. The price of goofs then inflated enormously to a level that is no longer affordable to the general public, not to mention the grassroots who value every single penny.

    “Being a hawker is our only way out.” quoted from a letter from a deputation (關注天水圍小販大聯盟) urging the government to legalize hawking and the dawn market. Given such an overwhelming situation, The emergence of Dawn market could be deemed as a form of protest or demonstration of the residents towards the monopolized market.

    Dawn market is an organic free market formed naturally, simply because of needs of the local residents. According to Population Census 2011, Tin Shui Wai is of 287,901 residents and over 60% of them are from low-income families living in public housing estates (“Population Census 2011”). There are a large group of middle-aged, low-skilled labour, who are of low educational level, and females who cannot work cross-district because they need to take care of their children facing difficulties in searching for a stable full-time job. These resulted in a more than 9 per cent unemployment rate, the highest in Hong Kong. Facing such a dilemma, street vending seem to be the only way for them to earn a living, particularly when most of them stand for self-reliance instead of relying on the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. In fact, hawking at dawn market could not only provide residents with a platform to exercise their entrepreneurial initiative and wisdom, but also serve as a place for them to social, interact and support each other.

    Therefore, it is suggested that the government review and modify the current legislation to provide hawkers with room to survive. Concerning the hygiene and monitoring problem, stricter enforcement actions and a marking system are believed to be effective ways.


    “販商盼天秀墟天光墟雙墟並存.” Hong Kong Commercial Daily [Hong Kong] 09 08 2013, A15. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. .

    “legislative council of HKSAR.” . 關注天水圍小販大聯盟 , 30 Mar 2010. Web. 16 Dec 2013. .

    “Population Census 2011.” . Census and Statistics Department, 18 Mar 2013. Web. 16 Dec 2013. .

    Wong, Chandra . “Hawker’s death ruled an accident.”South China Morning Post [Hong Kong] 31 May 2007, n. pag. Print. .

  13. Ma Wynne Wing Yee 2012528705

    Thank you for bringing up the hawker issue, Bowie. Indeed street trading has long been a feature of life in Hong Kong for over 100 years. It is also a feature of low level retail development. The credit of street trading is based on the services of accessibility and cheapness rendered by street traders. Street trading should be protected and pass on a heritage.
    However, the way hawker business should be conducted should follow the modern trend of the society. Hawker activities, especially those involving cooking, create much nuisance. Those who take the convenience of it may not realize. But those local who has to suffer the blocked or narrowed passages caused by the stalls, and the crowd, the smell, the noise, the rodents and cockroaches brought along, will a have a strong feeling against it.
    That is why Government has the Hawker Control Team to reduce illegal hawking activities as well as on-street licensed hawking activities, on the objective of minimizing the nuisances created by street trading either by hawkers or shops extending onto the footpath.
    With proper control, the streets can be kept clean, clear and safe for the locals to walk through. I agree that some form of local areas should be assigned for hawker activities. However, thorough consideration on the location of hawker stall and the hawker activities to be allowed is necessary. In addition, proper control is a must. License for a limited period can be issued but should be based on stalls on a location. Rent has to be paid to maintain a fair competition with local shops.

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