The Hong Kong government has denied an application to make “Be Water” a vehicle registration mark, saying that it “may cause danger to the safety of any user of the road.”

Protest scenes from September 15, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

“Be Water” was a slogan and tactic used by protesters during last year’s anti-extradition protests. It originated from Bruce Lee’s martial art philosophy to be “formless, shapeless, like water.” Protesters urged each other to be speedy and flexible to avoid being arrested at the large-scale protests, which often descended into violent clashes with the police.

A netizen said in a Facebook post on Friday that his application was denied by the Transport Department: “[H]ow weak do you have to be to think that ‘be water‘ is dangerous?”

In response, the Transport Department told HKFP that they will “consult relevant policy bureaux and department, and then submit the application to the vetting committee for discussion.” They added that the results are then submitted to the Commissioner for Transport, who may reject the personalised vehicle registration mark under the current licensing rules.

Bruce Lee’s “Be Water” philosophy.

Apart from suspicion that the licence plate “may cause danger” to other users of the road, current vetting criteria ban all vehicle registration marks that is “likely to be offensive,” have triad connotations, or may be confused with government vehicles.

The Transport Department opened application for personalised vehicle registration number in 2006. In 2010, former pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, better known as “Long Hair”, successfully applied and won the bid for a licence plate “DonaldPK,” which was a reference to then chief executive Donald Tsang.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.