A Hong Kong government bureau has lashed out at a newspaper cartoon which satirised small-circle government committees that will hold District Council seats under a proposed reform of the city’s local-level administration.

ming pao zunzi
A Ming Pao comic satirising the District Fire Safety Committees and District Fight Crime Committees. Photo: Ming Pao.

The illustration, published in Ming Pao by artist Zunzi on Tuesday, showed one character telling another: “Failing in Chinese, English and math [exams]; high cholesterol; obesity; having heart disease; small stature; colour-blind; short-sighted, all of these are not problems.”

“As long as the official thinks [somebody] is suitable, they can be appointed to the District Fire Safety Committees [and] District Fight Crime Committees.”

In a statement on Facebook, the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau said the comic had “twisted and slandered” the principles for appointing members to the two committees.

district council election 2019 november 24 (15) (Copy)
Pro-democracy activist Jimmy Sham campaigning during the 2019 District Council elections at Lek Yuen Estate, Sha Tin. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The District Fire Safety Committees and District Fight Crime Committees, under the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau, are small-circle groups comprising members appointed by the government. Hong Kong’s 18 districts each have their own fire safety and crime committees, and each committee has 30-odd members.

“The content ignores facts, deceives the public and is discriminatory, insulting people with high cholesterol, heart disease and colour blindness [by] implying they are incapable of contributing to society,” the statement read. “Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak strongly condemns this behaviour.”

It added that appointments were “talent-based” and considered “competence, experience and sincerity in serving the community.”

Alice Mak
Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak attends a press conference on May 2, 2023 about the proposed amendments to the District Councils. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The bureau added that despite facing “all sorts of smears and slanders,” it would “firmly implement the improved district governance plans… so every Hong Kong resident can benefit.”

District Council overhaul

The government announced last week that the District Council polls would be overhauled to prevent people from “hijacking, manipulating [and] paralysing” the local district bodies. The pro-democracy camp saw a landslide victory during the last District Council polls in 2019, held amid protests and unrest against an amendment to the city’s extradition bill.

Apart from the 27 seats reserved for rural committee chairmen who represent indigenous villagers, all 479 District Council seats were elected by the public.

District Council election 2019
Hongkongers line up to vote in the 2019 District Council election. Photo: GovHK.

But under the reform, the number of publicly elected seats will be cut to 88. The remainder of the seats will be appointed by the chief executive, while 176 will be produced through elections within the District Fight Crime Committees, District Fire Safety Committees and Area Committees of each district.

This is not the first time that the Ming Pao comic series has come under attack from the government.

In April, Secretary for Security Chris Tang took aim at a comic satirising proposals to build a HK$5.2 billion communication system for the police force.

And in January, Chief Secretary Eric Chan said a comic – which illustrated whether foreign lawyers not qualified to practice locally can take part in national security cases – was “biased” and “misleading.”

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.