The frustrated generation


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The recent protests against the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou were led largely by post-80s. Photos: Sam Tsang, Felix Wong

Wong Yat-hei asks if the attitude of Hong Kong's young people towards society is justified

The 'post-80s' generation has been in the news a lot recently: they are at the forefront of protests against the high-speed rail link project, and a recent survey showed them to be less happy than older generations.

According to Professor Wong Kin-yuen of Shue Yan University, who specialises in intercultural studies and literary theory, post-80s have good reason to be frustrated. They feel neglected by society, and that they have very little impact on the world around them.

'People in their 30s, 40s or 50s have a well-established career and life. Post-80s are trying to find their way into this group but are constantly rejected,' Wong says. 'This failure has led to their feeling neglected and disappointed. They want to voice their dissatisfaction. The protest against the high-speed railway is just a trigger.'

Wong pointed out that post-80s have certain expectations which fail to be met. One prime example is that they expect to get a decent job after graduating from university but often this doesn't happen.

'Many of them find themselves struggling after receiving the education they were taught to believe was great. This dream that never comes true only adds to their frustration,' says Wong.

Wong adds that post-80s have grown up in a tough era full of crisis and uncertainty.

'Life for them is definitely tougher than it was for their parents, with threats of terrorism, climate change and financial crises, to name just a few,' he says.

Wong believes the government must pay more attention to the voices of post-80s to avoid further social unrest. Post-80s are more socially aware than previous generations, and are more likely to speak out about inequality and rights, but they are not always conscious of the bigger picture.

Wong says: 'By protesting against the railway, post-80s raised issues about villagers losing their homes and big enterprises gobbling up the benefits of the construction project. These things are true, but how about the bigger question of the impact on the environment?

'Compared to young people who staged protests at the climate summit in Copenhagen, I think they lack insight to the problem.'

A government employee who gave his name only as Chris earns more than HK$30,000 a month. He agrees that competition is intense, but does not believe his generation lacks opportunities to be successful.

Chris, 24, says: 'People need some sort of professional qualifications to make a living. University graduates are no longer considered elite. But if you are willing to take the extra step, there are always opportunities.'

Despite his decent salary, Chris feels he may have to lower his living standards because his income is no match for the rate of inflation. 'I think I'm doing all right, but I feel that people who were paid what I earn in the past would have had a higher living standard,' he says.

Chris agrees with Wong's opinions on his generation's part in the recent protests. While he believes it is a good thing for people to voice their concerns, he doesn't believe the post-80s' actions contribute anything to society.

'They have their point of view but they are just complaining without providing any practical alternatives to solve the problem,' Chris says.

'They gave me the impression that they're protesting for the sake of protesting, and that's not going to get them anywhere.'

Dennis Yeung, 25, is one of many post-80s with a good reason to speak out. He has not had a full-time job since graduating from a higher-diploma programme four years ago. He is worried about not being able to buy a flat or start his own family because his income is so low.

'Society has never been more competitive. Everybody around me has a degree or a professional qualification. Requirements are so high and pay is so low. Life is tough,' he says.

But in spite of his struggles, Yeung believes post-80s should spend less energy complaining and focus on finding ways to improve themselves.

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