Is there any reason left to defend Hong Kong?
Columnist Andrea Lo says that for most people of her generation, the city offers no real freedom, no say in what happens next, and no space to dream
An increasing lack of freedom of speech. Zero right to elect our own leader. Unforgivable property prices. Endless worries about what our future holds.
For Hongkongers — and in particular my own cohort, young Hongkongers — there seems to be no more reason left to defend our city.
All of which could explain why many of us don’t even want to be here anymore. We’re supposed to be the keepers of our city’s future and all of that – but, apparently, 60% of people aged between 18 to 29 are ready to ship out.
How did it come to this?
I grew up with the idea of ‘An Unchanged 50 Years,’ a premise that was enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. It was supposed to guarantee a number of things instrumental to Hong Kong retaining its way of life — under a ‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangement — for five decades after the ‘handover’ to China, from Britain, in 1997.
I remember being reprimanded at school when – asked by a teacher what I thought ‘An Unchanged 50 Years’ meant – I told him “the horses will keep racing, and the dancers will keep dancing.” That was a common saying in Cantonese at the time and one that essentially expressed the idea that Hong Kong would carry on as it was, remaining prosperous and free.
Among the things we were promised would stay the same were Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law, and various laws guaranteeing our basic freedoms.
Well, fast forward 20 years and you don’t need to know much about Hong Kong’s current state of affairs to know that in many regards ‘An Unchanged 50 Years’ is a phrase that already rings hollow.
Are we truly free to express our opinions here in the SAR (Special Administrative Region) when banners bearing pro-independence slogans are landing university students in hot water? Let’s not forget that pro-independence sentiment has only grown because Article 45 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law – a section of our mini-constitution that stipulates our Chief Executive is to be selected by universal suffrage “upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures” – has been trampled over and buried by the powers that be in Beijing.
A sense of political dejection and cynicism is becoming widespread: almost en masse, young people simply no longer trust the government.
It’s hardly a coincidence that a large proportion of young entrepreneurs in this town are either former bankers who decided to quit their jobs in finance and put their savings to work in other ways, or are fortunate enough to have come from families who can support them in their innovative ventures
What’s the correct response? You can choose to shut it all out if you like. I know some people who do. But just sticking to the daily grind doesn’t make me feel any more confident about what lies ahead.
With the city’s housing market being one of the most expensive in the world, it’s very difficult for members of my generation to get on the property ladder. That might not be such a big problem were it not for the fact that property-owning is generally a measure of success here — a way of thinking that is deeply ingrained in the city’s culture. And paying sky-high rent every month instead is hardly a thrilling alternative.
The pressures faced by young people in Hong Kong, financial or otherwise, cannot help but cut into all aspects of our lives. Let’s face it: it’s hard — some might say impossible — to be creative and ambitious and far-sighted when, even in a “good” job, you struggle to pay the bills every month. It’s hardly a coincidence that a large proportion of young entrepreneurs in this town are either former bankers who decided to quit their jobs in finance and put their savings to work in other ways, or are fortunate enough to have come from families who can support them in their innovative ventures.
For the rest of us, though, it’s a case of no real freedom, no say in what happens next, and no space to dream. Can you blame us for running out of reasons to champion Hong Kong?
Like the disqualified pro-democracy lawmaker Yau Wai-ching said in 2016: “Even if we wanted to go banging (yeah, she meant sex), we couldn’t find a room to do it. Under debt, young people are facing limited options in spaces to bang in… What dreams can we have for our future?”
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-gnor, is fond of pointing to dissatisfaction among young people in other parts of the world when reminded of their disenfranchisement here. But the more she and others ignore the counsel of despair sweeping through my own generation, the more likely large swathes of us are to want to escape.