Hong Kong’s angry youth are rebellious, not stupid

Yonden Lhatoo argues that it’s easy to scoff at and judge the city’s agitated youth, but they have genuine grievances and are the future, after all

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 4:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 8:07pm

Spare a sympathetic thought for the youth of Hong Kong these days. I’m not being sarcastic, despite my track record of calling them out over this city’s mollycoddling culture that often inflates their sense of entitlement.

It always boils down to basics. According to news out this week, exponentially increasing property prices have shattered the dreams of our youth to own a home some day. If you look at those between 18 and 34 who hope to buy a flat, the demographic has halved over the past decade.

Even among this endangered species of optimists, expectations are low. They are looking at the prospect of working for 10-25 years to own the roof over their heads and, even then, they don’t expect to have savings to pay for anything above HK$4 million.

And speaking of aiming low, they aspire to double their average living space to 270 sq ft.

There’s something inherently sad about all this, considering that this is Hong Kong, not some sub-Saharan refugee centre.

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You would imagine that a humble home that provides basic comfort and dignity should be a given in one of the most affluent metropolises in the world, but this is one of the shameful anomalies that undermine our claim to the title of “Asia’s world city”. It is also one of the most glossed-over root causes of youth discontent and frustration in Hong Kong.

There’s something inherently sad about all this, considering that this is Hong Kong, not some sub-Saharan refugee centre

Far from feeling any sense of guilt or social obligation to right such a pathological wrong, our property developers are preying on the youth demographic by building shoebox-sized flats and mismarketing them as “trendy” homes for the young, upcoming proletariat. Add other unsavoury predators to the mix, such as businessmen renting out cubicle sleeping spaces that resemble hyperbaric chambers, and you have a cesspool of greed and desperation that is not just a blight on this city, but on humanity itself.

We look at our angry post-millennials on the streets, lashing out at the establishment, and we tut-tut at them in self-righteous indignation. What’s wrong with them? “Go home!” is a common admonishment I hear adults yelling at agitated youngsters.

And there we go back to basics again: chances are, home is so cramped and depressing, they would rather be outside. More importantly, they want to have a say in how this city is run and they have the numbers to vote their representatives into the legislature.

Our angry young people have a message we should listen to

I’m at a loss for words regarding the disqualification of the two newly elected young localists over their anti-China oath-taking antics in the Legislative Council. It’s such a cringeworthy mess.

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But I wouldn’t write off people like Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the city’s youngest legislator at 23. When I met him, I found him to be polite, informed, articulate and wise beyond his years – whether I agreed with his politics was irrelevant in that regard.

Remember Tsang Tak-sing, our former home affairs secretary? He was treated as a young communist miscreant by the colonial British administration, but was rewarded for his loyalty to Beijing with a minister’s portfolio after the handover. Our youth are the future, and I don’t see why a Nathan Law or a Joshua Wong can’t become one of Hong Kong’s top leaders some day.

All said and done, though, I do wish the boneheads who wave British flags at Hong Kong localist rallies would just cease and desist. I refer them to The Simpsons for parting inspiration, since that hallowed American TV show did predict Donald Trump’s victory 16 years ago: “We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post