"Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong," said the pro-Beijing leader in an official statement released Wednesday.
"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.
"Sheep are widely seen to be mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups," explained Leung.
Decoding the message
At first glance, the statement might seem innocent enough -- perhaps even cute. But it's a sharp rebuke to thousands of Hong Kongers who staged a massive protest just three months ago in an unsuccessful call for Leung's resignation.
Popularly known as the "Umbrella Movement," demonstrators
occupied major roads for over two months and demanded genuine universal suffrage: the right to nominate and elect their next leader.
Leung -- who was elected by a small committee dominated by Beijing loyalists -- staunchly resisted the protests.
Alan Leong, a legislator who participated in the demonstrations, was horrified by Leung's New Year wish.
"Does he know he has been called a wolf by Hong Kong people?" he said. "So is it the wolf speaking, wanting Hong Kong people to behave like sheep, so as to be slaughtered and eaten up by him?
"I think it's crazy, and he is sick."
The leader's lupine nickname is well-known in the city. In late 2013, a protester hurled an IKEA stuffed wolf
at Leung, causing the toy to sell out in stores across the city.
Although Hong Kong's pro-democracy street occupations have been dispersed, fierce discontent remains among residents who feel the former British colony's values are collapsing under the weight of mainland China's influence.
Protesters have repeatedly vowed to organize new forms of civil disobedience this year.
When the largest street camps were cleared in December, many demonstrators left banners with a simple message: "We'll be back."