This post was written by Hong Wrong and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press on January 17, 2016. The version below is published on Global Voices under a partnership agreement.
Many Hong Kongers know 689 to be the nickname of the city's top leader, Chief Executive CY Leung.
In 2012, Leung was elected to his post with just 689 votes from the election committee — the select group of voters representing various sectors that are allowed to vote for chief executive. That process is set to change for the 2017 chief executive election to allow all Hong Kongers to vote, albeit from a list of candidates approved by committee similar to the election committee.
Now that Taiwan's newly elected President Tsai Ying-wen was elected with 6.89 million votes, the number is becoming more magical.
In 2014, news agency APF tweeted an infographic that explains the complicated system:
— AFP news agency (@AFP) October 1, 2014
Leung is often heckled in the legislature by pan-democratic lawmakers – most notoriously by Wong Yuk-man – who enjoy reminding him of the number. Below is a speech that he made to criticize the chief executive in the Legislative Council:
The speech was made during the Q and A section of Leung's policy address on 22 October 2015. The first 30 seconds of Wong's speech were as thus:
Three years back, I used this term 689 to describe the person who is lacking credibility, a liar with low character. This person does not have any qualifications to run Hong Kong. After three years, what he has done has proven that I was fair and objective…
He ended his speech with a question: “689, when will you die?”
The number is also commonly seen at protests:
And was especially popular during the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.
In January 2015, the athletic brand Puma removed a photo it posted on Facebook of a runner’s identification tag bearing the number “D7689” upon receiving complaints from pro-government netizens. “D7” can be interpreted as Cantonese profanity and the photo attracted a large number of comments, like “support D7 [f**k-up] 689″ or “right on target, admin!”
Netizens have since taken joy in spotting instances of the number around Hong Kong, as well as in creating art works and parodies related to “689”.
Below is a simulation of a video game produced by Ronnie Chau, a political satire video producer, showing how “689” gains energy from the Chinese Communist Party (represented by the communist symbol). Hong Kong, being a special administrative region of China, enjoys a high degree of autonomy from the mainland, but China's influence is nevertheless potent:
Netizens also noted that, when added together, 6+8+9 equals 23 – as in, Basic Law Article 23, which refers to the local legislation of China's national security law. A related bill which criminalizes speech and many NGOs’ advocacy activities as threatening to China's national security was drafted, but was withdrawn following protests in 2003. The Hong Kong government has not attempted to restart the legislation process yet and the public is worried that Chief Executive “689” will table the bill to the legislature once he is re-elected in 2017.
But Leung is not the only Chinese leader haunted by the figure. Taiwan’s outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou was elected with 6.89 million votes in 2008, and the nickname also stuck. Over the weekend, Taiwan’s new leader Tsai Ing-wen was also elected with 6.89 million votes. The visualization of the difference between 689 and 6.89 looks like this:
It is unclear if it will become her nickname, though the coincidence did not go unnoticed by Hong Kongers — it inspired the creation of another figure by Mr & Ms HK People:
Mathematically, 689 is also a magical number. As findthefactors.com explains, it is a strobogrammatic number, meaning it can be read upside down.
It is also the sum of consecutive prime numbers 227, 229 and 233, and it is the sum of the prime numbers between 83 and 109.
For Hong Kongers, however, 689 will always be indelibly linked to the city’s unpopular leader.