Hong Kong's protesting youth seek freedom of a different kind

Danny Chan says Hong Kong's protesting youth are really driven by a desire to escape a way of life dominated by economic rationality

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 2:30pm

When did Hong Kong's school calendar become so politically sensitive? During summer breaks, local parents and teachers usually devote their resources and creativity to occupying youngsters with internships, study tours and other forms of extra-curricular activity. As summer arrives this year, they'll also need to try to keep their children away from potential street protests.

Every political movement, including Occupy Central, uses slogans to unify believers and rouse emotions. These are usually what people remember of the movement. However, contrary to what Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung might think, I don't believe the student activists were more interested in impressing girls, or seeking social media attention.

A stroll through Admiralty during the Occupy protests would have revealed that the young occupants also sought a communal identity, a creative platform and an idyllic lifestyle, even though none of these are natural consequences of universal suffrage. Youngsters need to feel validated, and they want an escape from urban suffocation. They seek these in the name of democracy.

When the older generation is so occupied with their careers, property and investment - aspects deemed heroic and glorious in any typical Hong Kong story of affluence - they also inadvertently pass on a heritage to the younger generation. In this, economic survival always comes before personal aspirations; true interests are irrelevant, impractical and reckless against a good career with prospects of advancement.

But youngsters crave a creative platform, and they found they could build one by chanting a few slogans, tying yellow ribbons and opening yellow umbrellas. As a group, they regained a sense of belonging.

How long have we talked of developing a creative Hong Kong? This will never happen as long as parents look at their child's education options in terms of future financial worthiness, or when new parents see no merit in, say, making toys with their children, because it does not yield certificates or merit points. So it should come as no surprise when this suppressed creativity is diverted onto the streets.

The pursuit of democracy masks a yearning for a different livelihood and lifestyle. The defiance of Hong Kong youngsters, though expressed through secular, down-to-earth desires, has now been escalated to the level of an exotic religion.

Underneath the chants for democracy lies society's unbalanced development. The only thing is, how many young people in Hong Kong will see it this way?

Danny W. K. Chan teaches communication and language at Hong Kong Community College, Polytechnic University