Generation Xi: The Future of Hong Kong

Story posted May 7, 2015 in News, Hong Kong by Carissa Gaither

Residents and experts share their views on Hong Kong's future in video and text

Leslie Law was just starting primary school in China when Britain handed over their colony of Hong Kong to Mainland China. The 23-year-old is studying journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University. She was born and raised on the Mainland and considers herself a live-in tourist.

VIDEO: Interview Highlight / Leslie Law

She’s optimistic about the future of her adopted city.

“Hong Kongers are more efficient, they treat money, time, and profit as the most important thing,” she said.

She sees evidence of the strong economic foundation in Hong Kong’s arts scene. “I think because the economy is good the government can support the artists. So, I think Hong Kong is a very good mixture of financial, commercial, and art,” she said.

Her presence in Hong Kong is part of the integration of the two countries.

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than a century and served as the economic gateway between Western traders and China. In 1997 Britain and China reached an agreement that would make Hong Kong part of China, while largely preserving Hong Kong’s independent government and economy.

Hong Kong and China would exist as, “One Country, Two Systems.” Seventeen years later this has raised an important question for Hong Kongers and Mainlanders alike: will integration into China be a step forward or a step backward for Hong Kong?

“One Country Two Systems” is the only form of government Natalie Wong has known. Like most people her age, she supports the Occupy Movement, a student-driven pro-democracy organization that advocates for the rights of Hong Kongers.

She thinks of herself purely as a Hong Konger and sees mainlanders such as Leslie as a threat to Hong Kong’s future as they move into the education system, the job market, and the social sphere.

 “I like Hong Kong’s culture, and I love the food,” she said. “I hope my future husband is from Hong Kong and has the same culture with me so I can share my life in Hong Kong. That is my dream.”

VIDEO: Interview Highlight / Natalie Wong

Hong Kong is caught between the modernization of China and Hong Kong’s integration into the larger country. For Law, the future appears bright. For Wong, it looks more problematic.

There’s no doubt the two entities are intertwined.

China is Hong Kong’s main trading partner, accounting for 54 percent of Hong Kong’s exports.  Housing prices have more than doubled in the last decade. They have common cultural roots, but very different political pasts.

Seated in university conference room beneath a sign that reads, “Truth is Virtue,” Colin Sparks, who spent most of his life in Britain, tends to side with Wong. He is a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University with a doctoral degree in Cultural Studies.

“Attitudes about the Mainland are something Hong Kongers are divided on. Forget what you’ve learned about communists and capitalists hating each other, in Hong Kong they love each other. In between, there are all shades of opinion,” he said.

For example, one of the issues in the Occupy Movement was jobs. Although the unemployment rate is only 3.3 percent, most jobs are for unskilled, low-paid service workers.

“Of course there’s a future. There’s a future of being a security guard, working in a luxury store, or in sweeping streets. That’s not the sort of future young people want,” Sparks said.

The service sector accounts for 93 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP and this puts them at a disadvantage compared to growing competitors like Singapore and Shanghai.

Sparks fears that Hong Kong faces heavy-handed political treatment from its neighbor to the north.

VIDEO: Interview Highlight / Colin Sparks

On-Cho Ng, who is head of the Asian Studies Department at Pennsylvania State University, is more hopeful as far as China is concerned. He says that China will move forward and while they may not adopt a political system that’s recognizably democratic in a Western sense, they’re moving toward a more lenient system.

 “If there’s going to be any modernization at all it’ll be modernization along the Singaporean lines, and that is to say without granting democracy nevertheless there’s a system that is firmly based on the rule of law,” he said.

Ng was born in Hong Kong and his family have lived in the region for over four generations. He sees the influence the traditional Chinese value system might have on the country’s modernization. “China is more interested in going back to Chinese tradition. Saying, ‘Look, within the Confucian system within our traditional ideology we can actually create space for people to work with the government.’ So essentially, the Chinese government has been busy developing this sort of indigenous political ideology […] the idea is that they would become this paternal government that takes care of the welfare of the people and there’s respect for protest, there is respect for dissent, but those things must be done within the Confucian value system so in many ways China wants to adopt the Singaporean system,“ he said.

VIDEO: Interview Highlight / On-Cho Ng

For now, Law and Wong live on the same small island, but in their perceptions of the future, they’re worlds apart.

Ng said that as different as ideologies may be between Mainlanders and Hong Kongers, and as blurry as the lines of political power and control may seem, the future is in the hands of these young women: the young, vocal minority.

“The situation should be looked at from a cautiously optimistic sort of lens. I think China will have to change somehow,” Ng said. “It’ll have to move in a direction that satisfies the desires of the young people who truly want a much larger civil space—and it’s happening.”

VIDEO: Interview Highlight / Leslie Law








VIDEO: Interview Highlight / Natalie Wong