HONG KONG • Hong Kong's richest man is weighing in on the protests rocking the city, urging a halt to the unrest "in the name of love".
"Love freedom, love tolerance, love the rule of law," billionaire Li Ka Shing said in advertisements placed on the front pages of several local newspapers yesterday, signing them as "a Hong Kong citizen".
"Love China, love Hong Kong, love yourself. The best cause can lead to the worst result. Stop anger in the name of love," he said.
The message from the 91-year-old, called Superman by his admirers, is the latest in a slew of appeals for calm from the city's tycoons as clashes between police and protesters grow increasingly violent.
However, unlike some of his peers, Mr Li stopped short of spelling out his support for the Hong Kong government and leader Carrie Lam, who is facing calls from protesters to resign.
Demonstrations that started in early June over a controversial Bill easing extraditions to China have morphed into a wider movement against Beijing's tightening grip over the city.
While the theme of Mr Li's message was love and peace, local social media lit up over the meaning of eight traditional Chinese characters he used in his call to end the pain and restore calm.
The poetic message with origins in the Tang dynasty, which describes a suffering melon plant after its fruit has been picked repeatedly, is often used to describe something on the verge of ruin after suffering too many attacks.
On Weibo, China's Twitter-like social network, "Li Ka Shing voiced out" was one of the trending topics, with many discussions focusing on how to interpret his message. Some posts said Mr Li was being deliberately ambiguous to placate both Beijing and the protesters. Later, the hashtag was disabled, with Chinese messages taken off the feed.
Mingpao, a Hong Kong newspaper, said Mr Li used the poem to convey that regardless of their political views, people need to stop hurting Hong Kong and act in its best interests.
But the paper said it could also mean that those in power should stop persecuting citizens.
There were other interpretations as well. Political cartoonist and dissident Badiucao depicted a panda picking melons - as referred to in the poem - and smashing them one by one to symbolise semi-autonomous regions of China, including Hong Kong.