kevin sinclair's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 12:00am

I've long suspected that young people in Hong Kong have more basic common sense than many older and presumed wiser folk. This is confirmed, for me, at least, by a poll conducted recently by the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association. It asked students aged eight to 14 what they thought were the most important 10 stories of 2004. The answers were illuminating.

The poll questioned 23,296 young people, casting a far wider net than many professionally-conducted polls, which may query a scant couple of hundred individuals.

The results illustrate that primary and secondary students, naturally enough, are most interested in issues that directly effect them; well, aren't we all? It also indicated widespread interest in broader social issues; they are concerned about community welfare. Similar soundings of their elders show grown-ups are mostly interested in issues like government, politics, elections and bread-and-butter matters.

For the young, what matters most are news stories that reveal bullying in schools, bloodworms in swimming pools, proposed changes to the structure of education and the accidental electrocution of two boys chasing their footballs. These were among the stories they voted the top 10 of 2004. The survey was conducted before the tsunami.

What intrigued me was widespread awareness of social issues. Many young people listed fake baby milk powder being sold on the mainland, the slaughter of a mother and her daughters by a deranged husband in Tin Shui Wai and the estimate of a million Hongkongers living in poverty.

This selection shows a healthy interest in society and its problems. But my faith in the rising generation was battered somewhat when I had a look at their prime choice, news of classroom bullying. Is this so widespread that it hangs like a warning storm cloud on the consciousness of children entering their teens? Apparently so.

It seems like a dark virus that particularly infects our tertiary institutions. At the end of 2003, there was an extremely disquieting case when a violent video was posted on a website. This showed a bunch of teenage thugs in school uniform beating a classmate. It was not merely a casual thumping, but systematic brutality; the victim was hit with chairs, kicked and knocked to the floor before laughing tormentors had fun jumping on his prone body. It was a horrifying display of vicious cruelty.

The case raised enormous alarm. Police charged 11 teenagers from a secondary school in Sheung Shui. The situation seems as bad in our citadels of higher learning. I was horrified to learn that orientation 'games' at some of our tertiary institutions commonly include an induction called Happy Corner.

In this, members of our educational elite grab a victim, usually male but girls as well, holding them spreadeagled in mid-air by their arms and legs. Victims are then swung back and forth and their crotch smashed into a lamp post or doorway. Ouch! The physical dangers of such stupidity are obvious. It could cripple a person for life.

And it's no rare event; a survey by Chinese University journalism students showed almost two out of every five boys at our five top universities had been 'cornered'. One youngster at Chinese University had been tortured 10 times in half a year.

Official response to this brutality seems pathetic. A spokesman for the University of Hong Kong said bullying cases were rare. That's not true, according to what students tell me. One victim of orientation harassment says it is common and happens all the time; what's rare is that anyone works up sufficient courage to complain. Such hazing is accepted as part of university life.

The spokesman admitted some orientation activities could go too far. Well, I suppose that's true.

If I was a shy 19 year old and first-year student targeted for 'cornering' and a bunch of academic hoodlums grabbed me, whirled me about and smashed me testicles-first into a lamp post, I might well consider they had gone a little too far.

In a nonsensical statement, the spokesman said HKU guidelines included warnings that 'at no time during the orientation programme should the dignity and rights of an individual be infringed upon'. That's good to know, victims must think as they hobble away from a cornering, tenderly nursing their sexual organs.

All universities have similar rules and guidelines, most of which seem to be totally ignored by students. Bullying seems to be a fact of university life. Maybe that's why young people heading for tertiary education place it on the top of their news list.