How one artist is attempting to change Hong Kong’s work culture

Luke Ching and the MTR advertisement that teaches subway passengers how to handle their rubbish. Image from

Luke Ching Chin Wai is a conceptual artist and labour-artivist in Hong Kong. Since 2013, he has worked undercover in different low-paid jobs in the city, including as a security guard, supermarket cashier worker, and metro cleaner to learn about poor people's working conditions. He then uses these experiences to create art and push for improved labour rights. Coincidentally, Ching’s birthday is on May 1, International Worker’s Day.

Coming from a grassroots family, Ching finished his Master of Fine Arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1998. His early work addressed Hong Kong’s unique language, culture and public spaces through photos, images, performances, videos, sounds, visual exhibitions, etc. 

Since the mid-2000s, Ching started challenging the collusion between capital and arts in the city’s art scene. In 2008, together with other artists and cultural workers, he was involved in a campaign to hijack public spaces with art. One of the hot spots was the public space outside the Times Square in Causeway Bay. In 2009, Ching appeared at the press conference of an art exhibition,  “Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation,” to protest against the exhibition of collusion as he saw the luxurious brand’s attempt to use art for publicity purposes. 

The chair movement

Ching’s labour-artivist journey began in 2007 after a security guard at the Hong Kong Museum of Art told him that he had to stand all day long during his shift. The artist then wrote a comment in the museum guest book, asking the management to provide chairs for guards.

Later, he turned his action into a “chair movement” by inviting others to join him, and after six months, the museum guards finally were allowed to sit during their shifts. 

He began his undercover worker project as a security guard in an outsourcing company in 2013. In his newspaper column, he said he was surprised that his employer was not interested in why a fine art postgraduate would end up being a security guard during the job interview. Then he realized


At that moment, I realised that this kind of job does not expect any career development. It is just a human flesh market, a destination for losers who failed in the job market. The outsourcing company could immediately make a profit when anyone signs up for the job.

In his first week, he worked as a substitute guard in a factory for a 12-hour night shift, then spent five days in a museum for an 8-hour evening shift. Originally, the company had arranged a full-time position for Ching in the Hong Kong Museum of Arts for an 8-hour night shift, but at the last minute, the company cancelled the contract and scheduled him for another night shift in a factory building. He was fired after he protested the arrangement. 

Then he tried other low-paid jobs, such as supermarket cashiers and cinema staff and carried on with the “chair movement” campaign for his colleagues. He explained the idea behind the campaign in a video:


The chair movement for security guards is a campaign to alleviate job-related injuries for security guards who have to stand for a long period during duty. It is also a campaign for workers to fight for their autonomy and I hope that it can be developed into a city-wide campaign to connect off-duty and on-duty wage earners. 

Eventually, he successfully pressured two supermarket chains and a cinema chain to provide chairs for their cashiers and staff during duty. Ching’s chair movement project was presented in “An Art Exhibition for the Working Poor”, organized by Oxfam in 2017:

Screenshot from the Facebook event page of An Art Exhibition for the Working Poor.

Later, in order to reach out to more workers, Ching created a Facebook page: “A movement for off-duty wage earners support on-duty wage earners” (放工後打工仔女撐未放工打工仔女運動). 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most exploitative jobs became outsourced cleaners who were responsible for maintaining public hygiene. After local reports showed that some cleaners were forced to have their lunch at their workplaces in toilet stalls and garbage collection stations, Ching started speaking out for the cleaners by criticizing the design of rubbish bins and garbage collection stations

On November 1, 2021, he began working at Tai Wai Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station as an outsourced cleaner. Three months later, he launched a silent stand protest to protest against the exclusion of MTR outsourced cleaners in the government’s pandemic relief subsidy scheme. 

Ching's silent protest. Image from

In 2021, the Hong Kong government froze the statutory minimum wage for the first time in 10 years, maintaining the 2019 rate at HKD 37.5 (approximately USD 5 dollars) per hour, and 14,300 workers were receiving the minimum wage in the city. Among these low-paid workers, cleaners accounted for 17 percent. The MTR company, with the Hong Kong government as its biggest shareholder, outsourced its cleaning work to subcontractors which hired 500 cleaners at minimum wages. 

Luke Ching's undercover worker project is to uncover the exploitative outsourcing work system adopted by the Hong Kong government. He told the Chinese investigative news site Initium: 


In my research, who receives the minimum wage? Most work for the government [affiliated public institutions]. Apart from the MTR company, the public housing sector also has similar practices. Hence, I don’t pick the job randomly, MTR is of great significance and deserves more public attention. Once you bring some changes in this public institution, it will affect other institutions as well. 

Apart from staging protests, he also invited his colleagues to express their discontent through photo collages:

Image collage from Facebook page: Off-duty wage earners support on-duty wage earners

Taking the opportunity of the city's annual art event, Art Basel 2023, Luke Ching raised some funds and bought an Advertisement at Tai Wai MTR station to teach subway passengers how to handle their rubbish (see feature image). He reflected on the meaning of his action on a social media post:


I watched the crowd-funded advertisement unfold at Tai Wai MTR and spent the rest of the day making sense of this seemingly strange landscape. After rounds of negotiation with the MTR company, we finally managed to put up the advertisement inside the station. The message is clear: the cleaning workers can speak for themselves in their workplace. It also lets people see the cleaner’s work lies behind the garbage. This is a gentle and reasonable request.  

For Ching, grassroots workers should enjoy the right to express themselves during their work. Thus, he would sing his favourite songs during his duty and encourage his colleagues to do the same. Some of his other artwork includes badges, such as cockroaches and painkillers,  that can be worn during duty to notify others about their bad mood. 

Badges designed by Luke Ching to express workers’ bad moods. Via Facebook page: Off-duty wage earners support on-duty wage earners.

Luke Ching spent almost two years working as a cleaner in MTR before he took a few months retreat to Sweden in July 2023. He returned to Hong Kong and his undercover MTR cleaner project earlier this month. 

After the enactment of the National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was forced to disband. Between 2020–2022, 178 worker’s unions have been delisted from the union registry and the annual International Worker's Day protest has also vanished due to political pressure. Luke Ching’s art intervention attempts to inspire other wage earners to carry on the labour rights movement in their everyday lives:


How can we create space for alternative practices in our work? Apart from reacting to incidents [such as industrial accidents or labour policy], how can we carry on the labour rights movement in our everyday lives? 

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