Tomorrow is the Lunar New Year on the Chinese calendar and, in his speech commemorating the event, the leader of Hong Kong, C.Y. Leung, committed a major league gaffe. Or did he? Leung urged Hong Kong residents to “take inspiration from the sheep’s character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong’s future.”
This is what’s known as a “Kinsley Gaffe,” (named after former CNN Crossfire host Michael Kinsley) that reveals some truth that a politician did not intend to admit. But Leung’s intent is open to question. However, given the political tension in Hong Kong in recent months, this sort of thing plays right into the hands of the pro-democracy forces.
“Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong. Our society was rife with differences and conflicts,” he said.
“In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep’s character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong’s future.”
He described sheep as “widely seen to be mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups”.
Chambers dictionary describes a sheep as “a creature that follows meekly, is at the mercy of the wolf or the shearer and displays tameness of spirit”.
Chinese officials have repeatedly stressed the need for a harmonious society in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that gives the city more autonomy and freedom than the mainland and a goal of universal suffrage.
But Beijing’s refusal to grant a fully democratic election for the city’s leader in 2017 infuriates pro-democracy activists and politicians who blame Leung for not standing up for their rights
Was Leung being extremely stupid or extremely clever? Taking the opportunity afforded by the new year being designated as the “Year of the Sheep,” Leung was spelling out exactly how much leeway protestors will have in the coming year; virtually none. The Chinese Communists will brook no opposition, will not compromise on the election issue, and will expect their subjects to quietly and obediently fall into line and cause no trouble for the authorities.
The Chinese government has no problem siphoning billions from Hong Kong for their own purposes. That’s why they allow the city a certain amount of economic freedom not enjoyed by businesses on the mainland.
But when it comes to political freedom — a freedom enjoyed by Hong Kong residents before the takeover in 1997 — the Communists have slowly been strangling the island, tying it ever closer to Beijing. What is supposed to be “one country, two systems” is rapidly disappearing, and the protestors who poured into the streets last September are angry about it.
By invoking the sheep as a symbol of ideal civic virtue, Leung is unmistakably giving fair warning to those who might consider rocking the boat; there’s a wolf in the neighborhood and the shepherd is on a lunch break.