Dangers of ignoring the sizeable minority

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 December, 2010, 12:00am

Having been surprised by the activism of the so-called post-80s generation during the high-speed rail controversy, the government has since commissioned its own survey about this supposedly new phenomenon of radical action. The results show that there is only negligible difference in responses between those born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These results de-bunk the myth about the post-80s generation, but that is only because the myth about those being born in the 1980s being more inclined to radical action was always exactly that - a myth. There is a vital difference between socio-politico factors which shape people's identity, aspirations and political values and the purely personal factors which determine whether a person takes part in confrontational protests.

It does not take a policy wonk to figure out that being born either side of 1980 or 1990 is not the determining factor of your identity and your civic consciousness. But there have indeed been seismic shifts in the development of Hong Kong, which in a very short space of time has shaped very different people who see their identity and Hong Kong's identity very differently. There was once a generation who came to Hong Kong escaping the Cultural Revolution, happy to have rescued their lives and be given a chance to make money without being persecuted for it. Some of them are now multi-millionaires. Thanks to their success, within a short space of time, a new demographic was born into a very different world. They were born in Hong Kong. They went to university and learnt from a variety of ideas from around the world. They were directly affected by the debates surrounding identity and nationality in the 1980s when the British government was making contradictory remarks about citizenship. As they were born under Britain, but not quite fully British, while not yet part of the mainland, they adopted Hong Kong as their true home.

Political organisations such as the Hong Kong Observers were born, scrutinising policies which would affect those being born in the 1980s. This demographic was deeply affected by the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, and those memories contributed to the uncertainty leading up to 1997. They are neither 'radical' nor 'moderate', but are merely deeply invested in Hong Kong affairs.

But while the above factors may determine a person's political values, they have nothing to do with whether you take part in a confrontational protest. Those born in the 1980s just happen to be university students or fresh graduates and take part in protests for all the universal reasons that students are more likely to protest. Many more may have held exactly the same views, but differed in how they thought best to express them. The post-80s phenomenon describes the change of values in a sizeable minority. The literal reference to an age group is meaningless.

The government must not now concentrate on the similarities of the majority and legitimise the ignoring of the post-80s. Researchers of the report highlight how ignoring the 'sizeable minority' will probably bring about 'public actions characterised by confrontation and expression of anti-establishment sentiments'. As evidenced by the proposed Asian Games bid, the high-speed rail controversy and a list of heritage and environmental policies, the government can be horribly out of touch with this 'sizeable minority'. Instead of dismissing these sentiments, the government needs to understand them. Once it has understood, it needs to respond.