Tongue-Tied in Hong Kong

The Fight for Two Systems and Two Languages

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying takes oath in front of Chinese President Hu Jintao during the inauguration of the new government in Hong Kong, July 1, 2012. Bobby Yip / Reuters

In 2012, C. Y. Leung was sworn into office as chief executive of Hong Kong after a controversial campaign. Because of Hong Kong’s unique “one country, two systems” arrangement with mainland China, he was elected to the territory’s highest office not by the direct vote of the citizens of Hong Kong but by an election committee of 1,200 members, widely viewed as a political cabal with economic and political ties to Beijing. Leung’s online critics nicknamed him 689, a reference to the actual number of votes that he received from the group of Beijing insiders out of the city’s 3.5 million registered voters.

Leung’s inaugural speech, delivered in Mandarin—the official language of mainland China—only further alarmed the city. It was the first time since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from British control that a chief executive did not give his address in Cantonese, the dominant language in the

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