HONG KONG • A political leader who championed the autonomy of Hong Kong has landed in trouble after he revealed he was not born in Hong Kong but in mainland China, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported yesterday.
Mr Edward Leung Tin Kei, the 24-year-old spokesman for Hong Kong Indigenous, which is accused of orchestrating the Mongkok riots during the Chinese New Year, went from fringe candidate to place a very respectable third among seven contenders in the legislative race in New Territories East last month.
His trouble started on Saturday when he told media, during a trip to thank voters, that he was born on the mainland.
His revelation came after he acknowledged in an earlier interview that his mother was a mainland immigrant who moved to the city 24 years ago, according to SCMP.
This has triggered heated debate on the Internet as to whether his background is incompatible with his politics, SCMP said.
"Go away! You are only pretending to be a localist to gain votes," one Internet user wrote, according to SCMP.
"You were once a new immigrant, fighting for resources and school places with locals. Why do you now discriminate against new immigrants and mainlanders?" said another post.
Mr Leung dismissed the criticisms and stressed that he was defending Hong Kong values, culture and institutions, which he said were more important than his place of birth.
He also said his mother "worked hard to assimilate into Hong Kong" and hardly returned to the mainland. "She never taught me Putonghua in my childhood. She's been speaking Cantonese to me all along," he added.
Putonghua, or Mandarin, is the official language on mainland China, whereas Cantonese is widely spoken in Hong Kong and often regarded by the city as a badge of honour.
Professor Chung Kim-wah of Polytechnic University questioned whether Mr Leung tried to hide his place of birth.
However, he stressed that Mr Leung's place of birth was irrelevant in determining whether he was a local, SCMP reported.
"If he came to Hong Kong when he was very young and he grew up here, then it's natural he would feel attached to the city," Prof Chung was quoted by the newspaper as saying.