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Leung Chun-ying

Umbrella politics: what it all meant at Hong Kong’s National Day flag-raising ceremony

Zhang Xiaoming closed his umbrella on rainy day as national anthem started up, followed by Leung Chun-ying, but John Tsang somehow failed to follow

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 6:57pm

To hold up or not to hold up an umbrella ... that was the question on Hong Kong senior officials’ minds at the National Day flag-raising ceremony on Saturday and one that has led to much speculation about the upcoming chief executive race.

In a newspaper column, former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping gave his own light-hearted take on the sequence of events on Saturday, which began when the chief of Beijing’s liaison office, Zhang Xiaoming, closed his umbrella despite the heavy rain when the national anthem began to play.

As soon as Zhang did so, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying indicated to his wife, who was holding an umbrella up for both of them, to follow suit.

By contrast, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who has been tipped as a chief executive candidate in the race next March, failed to follow Zhang’s lead.

“Leung gained points for being loyal by putting down his umbrella, while Tsang gained points for being independent-minded for not putting his down,” Wong wrote. “But who came out on top ... is of course decided by the central government.”

The former senior official also noted that with Leung’s wife holding the umbrella, it symbolised the nature of male-dominated Chinese culture.

On the other hand, former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen held the umbrella for his wife, which Wong said symbolised “Western values”.

“[Chief Justice] Geoffrey Ma Tao-li and his wife each held their own umbrellas. One couldn’t help but associate this with one of Hong Kong’s precious core values of judicial independence,” he wrote.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said it was very common for mainland officials to put down their umbrellas at flag-raising ceremonies as a sign of respect.

But he said such standards should not be applied to Hong Kong officials.

“Even if [Hong Kong officials] don’t put down their umbrellas, it doesn’t mean they are disrespecting the national anthem or the national flag,” he said. “There is a difference in political culture between Hong Kong and the mainland.”

But Lau said it was difficult to determine why Leung put down his umbrella.

He said Leung’s actions were giving the public the impression that he was following Beijing’s liaison office in the city.