This limited-edition bottled water was on sale until March 2019, before the Hong Kong protests erupted in June
Images of a water bottle, which has a Chinese-language ambigram that means both “success” and “add oil”, and a message supporting Hong Kong students printed on its label, have been shared thousands of times in multiple posts on Facebook, Twitter and Weibo. The photos have been shared alongside a claim accusing Hong Kong water company Watsons Water, as well as the founder of its parent company, property tycoon Li Ka-shing, for supporting students who participated in the 2019 pro-democracy protests. The images have been shared in a misleading context; Watsons Water confirmed the bottled water belonged to one of its limited-edition runs that was on the market between May 2018 and March 2019, before the pro-democracy protests began in June 2019.
These side-by-side photos have been shared more than 2,500 times after being published on Facebook on December 17, 2019.
The photos purport to show a water bottle from different angles. The image on the left shows the Chinese characters for “success” at the top of the label being circled in red, and those for “in exchange for limited edition prize” and “cheer Hong Kong students on” at the bottom being circled in orange.
The traditional Chinese-language caption translates to English as: “[Li Ka-shing cheers students on]
“‘Success’, viewed upside down, is ‘add oil’!”
The Chinese characters for “success”, when flipped 180 degree, can be read as “add oil”, which according to this Oxford English Dictionary definition, is a common Chinese expression used to show encouragement.
“Hong Kongers, add oil!” is a popular slogan often chanted by pro-democracy protesters, as reported by AFP here.
Below is a screenshot of the misleading Facebook post:
The posts were published in December 2019, during Hong Kong’s seventh consecutive month of pro-democracy protests. A New Year’s Day democracy rally prompted mass arrests and clashes between police and demonstrators, AFP reported here on January 1, 2020.
The images have been shared in a misleading context; Watsons Water has confirmed the photos show a limited-edition bottled water that was on the market between May 2018 and March 2019 -- before the pro-democracy protests began in Hong Kong in June 2019.
The photos in the misleading posts show traditional Chinese-language text highlighted in blue at the bottom of the label.
Translated to English, the text states: “Beacon College commissioned Mr. Issei Nomura to create this ambigram to cheer Hong Kong students on.”
Beacon College is a Hong Kong cram school that helps students prepare for public examinations.
Reverse image and keyword searches on Google led to this Facebook post published by Watsons Water on May 16, 2018.
The seven-second clip in the post shows an identical bottled water with a camouflage label, in either blue or green, as well as a message at the end that states: “Watsons Water joins hands with Beacon College to cheer Hong Kong students on!”
The traditional Chinese-language caption of the post translates to English as: “[Add oil, always! Succeed and break boundary!]
“It’s definitely not easy to be a student in Hong Kong, so Watsons Water has joined hands with Beacon College to roll out a brand new packaging design for our bottled water and cheer you on!
“The packaging includes an ambigram created by Japanese artist Issei Nomura. Turning the bottle upside down, the characters for ‘success’ become ‘add oil’!
“We hope all Hong Kong students can carry the same spirit, add oil, break boundary, work towards your dream!”
Below is a screenshot of the Watsons Water Facebook post:
AFP found the same video in this Beacon College Facebook post also published on May 16, 2019, alongside a similar caption.
Artist Issei Nomura tweeted about the bottled water in this Japanese-language Twitter post on May 17, 2018.
遵理學校 Beacon Collegeさんの依頼で制作した「加油⇔成功」のアンビグラムが屈臣氏蒸餾水watsons-waterさんとコラボしました！もう店頭に並んでいるようです。カッコイイです！ pic.twitter.com/YoHOi5uiMZ— 野村一晟 画家アンビグラム作家 (@IsseiNomura) 16 May 2018
The caption translates to English as: “An ambigram of ‘add oil’ - ‘success’ was produced at the request of Beacon College, and in collaboration with Watsons Water. It seems that they are already sold in store. Amazing!”
Watsons Water issued a clarification regarding the packaging issue in this Weibo post on December 17, 2019.
The post’s simplified Chinese caption, translated to English, states: “It has come to our attention that there is a misunderstanding over the 2018 packaging design of Watsons Water. The design was part of a one-off, limited-edition run only available in Hong Kong, China, in 2018.
“We hereby reiterate that the design and promotion were part of a 2018 marketing campaign, which ended in March 2019. The idea behind the design was to encourage students who were facing exams and to help them relieve stress. We hope relevant individuals and platforms would stop spreading untrue remarks.”
An image of a statement that carries the same message was also included in the Weibo post, as seen in the screenshot below:
In addition, Watsons Water stated in this Facebook comment on December 17, 2019, that the bottle design was created for students who were going to take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE), the city’s university entrance examination.
The traditional Chinese-language caption translates to English states: “Thank you for your inquiry. This design for our bottled water was rolled out in May 2018 in support of HKDSE students. It belonged to a one-off, limited-edition run.
“These designs, pictures and promotional materials were part of a 2018 marketing campaign, which ended in March 2019. Thanks again for your support.”
Below is a screenshot of Watsons Water’s comment:
Young people, many still in school, form the vast majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, according to this August 2019 AFP report.
The ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong began in June 2019, AFP reported here.
Statistics published by the Hong Kong government here on December 4, 2019, show 66 percent of the people arrested in connection to the protests between June 9 and November 30, 2019, were aged between 18 and 30.
The government press release states in part: “As at November 21, the Police arrested a total of 5 856 persons, aged between 11 and 83.
“The offences involved include ‘riot’, ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘wounding’, ‘assault occasioning actual bodily harm’, ‘arson’, ‘criminal damage’, ‘in possession of offensive weapons’, ‘assaulting police officer’, ‘obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty’, etc.”
Below is a screenshot of the relevant statistics, circled in red by AFP: