Why Hong Kong youth and their elders can't see eye to eye

April 22, 2015 14:25
Arthur Li (inset, top) and Lau Ming-wai can't understand why most of today's youth are against the government. Photos: HKEJ

As the government unveiled its political reform proposal to the Legislative Council for approval on Wednesday, the schism between the youth and their elders once again comes to the fore.

Late last year, the youth took to the streets to voice out their demand for genuine universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election.

Their elders, on the other hand, are advising the people to "pocket it first", meaning accept the Beijing-dictated election package, even if it falls short of their expectations of a truly democratic way of choosing Hong Kong's next leader.

They say it is better than reverting to the old system in which the chief executive is chosen by a small committee of Beijing loyalists, and it holds out the promise that it can be improved in the future.

No doubt, there is a wide gap between the two generations, who are both fighting for the future of our beloved city.

Yet this gap is not only a divergence of opinion, but also of perception, of how the two generations view each other. And though we assume that both sides wish the best for Hong Kong, we cannot understand why some of our older, supposedly wiser, citizens regard the youth in such a condescending, immature manner.

Take the case of Executive Council member Arthur Li, the former vice-chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong who has denied eyeing the chairmanship of the University of Hong Kong's governing council.

In an interview with TVB News, Professor Li said: "Many students who take part in political activities are not particularly academically gifted, and they only like to be heroes to their girlfriends. And therefore if they could stand out, wave banners and shout slogans, they would look like a hero, wouldn't they? I think that is the attraction of it."

On the other hand, Lau Ming-wai, the newly appointed chairman of the Commission on Youth, said he could not understand why Hong Kong youngsters do not trust the government.

He said Hong Kong people should embrace Beijing's rule of Hong Kong, noting that the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong should have normalized after the 1997 handover.

"I don't understand why the young people do not trust the government," Lau said. "While the commission is not responsible for the constitutional development of Hong Kong, I would like to go to the Occupy sites to meet the youngsters if the next Occupy campaign breaks out."

The youth, especially the students, always play an important role in pushing society forward, and this is true everywhere in the world, including China. 

With a mind untrammeled by prejudices and selfish interests, they are brave enough to think outside the box and challenge the status quo. They seek truth and justice, which they believe are the foundations of a good society.

Maybe it is true that they don't trust the government, but that is because they have seen their leaders work against the interests of the people.

They want to preserve and improve on what is good about Hong Kong. They don't want Hong Kong to lose its uniqueness and become just like any other Chinese city. They want a city where there is freedom of expression and rule of law.

Stirring up trouble is the farthest from their mind. During the Occupy protests last year, trouble did not come from them but from the police who used excessive force to break up peaceful assemblies.

From the comments of Lau and Li, one can surmise that the older generation simply refuses to listen to the youth and is only interested in imposing their will on them.

The older generation believes that society should focus on economic development rather than democracy. They criticize the youth for not making economic contribution to Hong Kong and devoting their time to political activities.

For the older generation, the priority to make wealth not only for themselves but for their families who will inherit their wealth. They want stability and despise anything that threatens that stability, including societal change.

But for the youth, life is more than what you put in your stomach or store in the bank. Life is also about dignity, freedom and justice. Life is building the future you are proud to bequeath to your children.

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EJ Insight writer