Hong Kong's unpopular Beijing-backed leader has called on residents of the southern Chinese city, rocked last year by months of pro-democracy protests, to be more like "mild and gentle" sheep.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his Lunar New Year message Wednesday that after a year "rife with differences and conflicts," he hoped Hong Kongers would "take inspiration from the sheep's character and pull together" for the city's future.

Leung, who is nicknamed the Wolf, said sheep are known for "living peacefully in groups."

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists occupied streets across the Asian financial hub for 11 weeks this past fall in what came to be known as the Umbrella Movement.

They were protesting Beijing's proposed curbs on planned 2017 elections for Leung's replacement.