Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has come under fire after posting on Facebook in simplified Chinese, a writing system commonly used in mainland China.

Leung wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday expressing respect for the elderly and talking about a free transport scheme.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Photo: CY Leung, via Facebook.

The post, containing two simplified Chinese characters, was deleted by Leung. He then posted a new entry with the same content an hour later, only to delete it again a few minutes later, possibly because it still featured one simplified Chinese character.

Despite fixing the characters, Leung’s third post had received more than 2,300 “angry” reactions and only about 600 “likes” at the time of writing.

One netizen wrote: “What’s the point of using simplified characters when mainlanders can’t access Facebook.” Another said: “Of course he writes in simplified Chinese – he doesn’t serve the interests of Hongkongers.”

Identity politics 

Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan generally use traditional, as opposed to simplified characters, which are preferred in mainland China.

The use of simplified Chinese often raises controversy in Hong Kong, especially as the city is experiencing a rapid rise of localism. Many in Hong Kong want to protect the traditional Chinese writing system and Cantonese language, two key aspects of their cultural identity.

Traditional Chinese (right) and simplified Chinese (left) of the same characters. File Photo: Stand News.

For example, the Education Bureau was heavily criticised early this year after suggesting that primary school students should learn to read simplified Chinese characters. Broadcaster TVB was also targeted in March after using simplified Chinese subtitles in a Mandarin news programme.

Chinese state media has criticised “radicals” for being “irrational and impolite” in rejecting simplified characters. It also said they tried to assert “cultural superiority” by insisting that traditional characters have a longer history.

An activist was arrested in April after uploading a video calling for “resistance” to library books printed in simplified Chinese.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.