Leaders should try to understand mindset of Hong Kong's youth

Updated: 2013-09-04 06:44

By Hong Liang (HK Edition)

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In a recent commentary about Hong Kong, public affairs consultant Mak Kwok-wah posed the question: "Has Hong Kong lost its mind?"

He thought so, obviously, and laid the blame on, among other things, too much social welfare. Like many business leaders in town, Mak pinpointed the "problem" on the notion that Hong Kong people are having too good a time.

To illustrate, Mak recounted his childhood when he said he had to work several part-time jobs to pay for schooling and upkeep. Enjoying the benefit of free education, many young people nowadays have too much free time on hand to do mischief, he observed. Based on this argument, the government, perhaps, should consider bringing back the "good old days" by doing away with free education.

Any suggestion like that, of course, sounds preposterous.

It's equally preposterous to suggest that Hong Kong has too much social welfare. To be sure, medical service is virtually free. So is education for our children. And of course, nearly half of the population lives in subsidized government housing. But we are neither enjoying nor seeking the range of social benefits comparable to those in many other developed economies.

If many youngsters are indeed spoilt, they are not spoilt by excessive government largesse, but, rather, by their parents who are doing better than their fathers and grandfathers. Many of us old timers profess to miss the lifestyle of times past. That's because we're given to nostalgia, choosing to remember the good things while ignoring the hardships.

While we remember with great fondness the many cooked food stores on the streets, we tend to block out memories that those places served basic foods mainly to the poorest among us who could not afford to eat lunch or dinner at restaurants. In those days, many families had no kitchens in their homes.

No doubt, people of my age must have heard the story that eight members of a family sharing one bed. That was all they could afford. Oh, by the way, many families lived in old tenements that had no flush toilets.

Those were the bad old days. One of my friends, who is now a wealthy stockbroker, told me that he had to work nights to earn money to go to school. He doesn't seem to have any fond memories of those times. He certainly doesn't wish his children to repeat what he went through.

No, Hong Kong people, young and old, aren't spoilt by too much social welfare, nor are they losing their collective mind. When we were young, we didn't have much option. The only choice we had was to make enough money to live better or to emigrate. The young people of today are searching a new identity for the place they call home.

Some of them may seem too impatient. But they aren't radicals bent on destroying the system. The problem is that young people's passion has been mistaken by business leaders as a threat to their established privileges, and exploited by political hooligans for their own personal gain.

Hong Kong is too mature a society and too established an economy to be threatened by a few angry young men and women. Instead of denouncing the young people for what is perceived as radicalism, the government and business leaders should try to listen to and understand their aspirations and frustrations. Such understanding should form the basis to establish a rapport which is sorely lacking.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 09/04/2013 page9)