24 October 2016
Artist Nat Chan says Joshua Wong (inset) is not smart because he failed to make it to any of the top eight Hong Kong universities. Photos: RTHK, Time Magazine
Artist Nat Chan says Joshua Wong (inset) is not smart because he failed to make it to any of the top eight Hong Kong universities. Photos: RTHK, Time Magazine

How the generation gap is holding back Hong Kong

Hong Kong used to be full of vibrant new ideas and energetic talent that helped transform it into a global metropolis.

But in the 18 years since the handover to China, it has been losing that competitive spirit.

In its place is a growing social divide and a generational conflict that is sapping Hong Kong’s strength.

The older generation is clinging to the past, basking in the glory days and refusing to adapt to political and technological change that is the reality of Hong Kong’s present and future.

This is causing a lot of frustration in many young Hong Kong people who don’t feel their elders are standing behind them or with them.   

A recent example is artist Nat Chan, who built his success in entertainment, horse racing and business.

Young people feel distant to him which makes him far from a role model.

Perhaps, it’s Chan’s politics or philosophy which borders on arrogance that’s alienating them.

Nat (literally smart in Cantonese) does not think young people are smart enough to know when to put the democracy movement behind them.

A smart person to him is someone with his achievements.

Chan made sure these were highlighted on a television program on Saturday.

He quickly contrasted himself with student leader Joshua Wong, a key player in last year’s democracy protests.

“If you can get 12 As in a public examination… did Joshua Wong achieve that?” Chan said.

“He failed to make it to the top eight universities in Hong Kong. How can I call him smart?”

Chan said students who took part in the movement had poor class performance and that the internet generation doesn’t like others to be successful and looks down on the poor.

He said young people like to “stir things up” and don’t realize that Hong Kong is about making money.

Chan’s politics have no place for pan-democrats who are trying to stop a copyright amendment bill or critics of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

In Chan’s mind, Leung can do no wrong and his unpopular government is doing a great job.

Leung’s critics don’t support him because “they don’t have the right to elect him, right? But the fact is that, Hong Kong is not your country, it’s China. I think China should take over Hong Kong and put it under its full control now.”

Most Hong Kong people who know Chan think he was born arrogant.

But although he likes to trumpet his business success, this is the first time he is weighing in on politics in so many words.

Many in the older generation agree with him. For instance, they think Joshua Wong is an academic disaster with a destabilizing effect on society.

Also, they think young people are moving Hong Kong backward, eschewing the chance to be financially successful in favor of their advocacies.

But unlike their elders, young people no longer consider money as the most important measure of success.

This is a basic contention in the generational debate — young people are challenging their elders’ long-held ideal of a successful and prosperous Hong Kong.

The old formula that monetizes everything justifies the flood of Chinese money to Hong Kong, some of it to make a quick a profit and some to line the pockets of money launderers.

But in the present political structure, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists and business tycoons, young people are having a tough time getting heard.

Yet, they have the most at stake in Hong Kong going forward.

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EJ Insight writer

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