hong kong democracy protests
People take pictures of a defaced cut-out of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The writing reads: "I'm wrong and deserve to die. I'm corrupt and shameless"Carlos Barria/Reuters

Beijing's man in Hong Kong, the unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying, has called upon the city's residents to behave "like sheep" in his New Year message.

Leung delivered an address to mark the advent of the year of the sheep, which he pointed out has a "mild and gentle character".

The close of 2014 saw tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators take to the streets of the city's business district in protest at Chinese influence over Hong Kong.

Hong Kong chief executive Leung also said sheep are noted for living together peacefully in groups, in a thinly-veiled call for obedience.

Interestingly, Leung has previously been likened to a wolf, because he is thought to be wily and not to be trusted.

"Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong. Our society was rife with differences and conflicts," said Leung.

"In the coming year I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep's character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong's future."

Critics on social media responded in bemused fashion: