HomeWorld News“To stay or to go? Hong Kong's transfer generation faces a...

“To stay or to go? Hong Kong’s transfer generation faces a tough choice | Human Rights News

Taipei, Taiwan – “Should I stay or should I go?” That’s the question facing many young people in Hong Kong, 25 years after the city’s return to Chinese rule.

At the time of handover in 1997, Beijing promised the former British colony 50 years of self-government, along with civil and political rights that do not exist on the Communist Party-ruled continent. But Beijing’s escalating crackdown on the city’s freedoms — including a national security law passed in 2020 that stamped out virtually all dissent — has irrevocably changed the lives of Hong Kong residents.

“Things that we assumed would always be there gradually faded away, like the system itself, like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, all of that, and we lost faith in our government,” said Iris, a 25-year-old woman. Hongkongers born in the year of the handover.

“Overall, our generation is pretty desperate for the future,” she said, asking that only her first name be used. The office worker said many Hong Kongers consider her generation “cursed”.

Hong Kongers born around the time of the handover grew up in an atmosphere of resistance to Beijing’s encroachment on their way of life. They were children during mass protests against a national security bill in 2003 and teenagers during the 2014 Occupy Central protests sparked by Beijing’s refusal to allow direct elections for the leader of the city.

These protests were followed in 2019 by mass protests against extradition plans to the mainland. The protests, which started peacefully before descending into violence, have expanded to include calls for greater autonomy and even independence from Beijing.

Beijing responded the following year by imposing draconian national security legislation prohibiting vaguely defined acts of subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces. Since then, most of the city’s political opponents have been imprisoned or forced into exile, dozens of civil society organizations have been dissolved, and critical and independent media outlets have been forced to close. As part of a radical overhaul of the electoral system, only candidates considered “patriots” can run for seats in the city’s legislative chamber.

Occupy Hong Kong
Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong in 2014 were sparked by Beijing’s refusal to allow direct elections for the city’s leader [File: Daniel J. Groshong/Bloomberg]

In a context of diminishing freedoms, nearly 60% of young people have expressed a desire to emigrate in 2021, according to a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As a group, young Hong Kongers are more politically active than older residents, with surveys in 2019 showing around 87% of people aged 18-29 backed pro-democracy protests and 63% said they were there. personally participated.

Hong Kongers under 25 have fewer options for escaping the city’s new political reality than older residents. While those born before July 1, 1997 are entitled to a British Overseas National Passport, which since last year has offered a route to residence in the UK, young residents must look to employment, studies or family routes to emigrate.

“As someone born in 1997, you sometimes feel like your future has already been decided by people born before 1997, and you’re not part of the conversation about what your future looks like,” Anna said. , who asked to be identified only by her first name.

The 25-year-old political activist has lived in exile outside Hong Kong since becoming involved in running the Telegram channels that were used to stage the 2019 protests. Such activities have earned others demonstrators long prison sentences.

Anna said the decision was difficult for her and her family – a decision not all young Hong Kongers are able or ready to make.

Gary Pui-fung Wong, a senior lecturer at the University of Leeds whose research includes the cultural history of Hong Kong, said the combined pressures of being a Hong Konger and a young person are a powerful mix.

Many people in their twenties go through a transitional phase as they begin to think more seriously about their future careers and family prospects, Wong said. Even before 2019, he said, it was difficult in Hong Kong, where to rent – ​​let alone buy – an apartment is out of reach for most young people.

“Right now they have to consider the future of the city in their own personal plan,” Wong told Al Jazeera.

“If Hong Kong’s integration into the Chinese mainland continues, this city could face fundamental change, so they need to think about migration and especially if the UK and Canada open up options for some. [university] graduates to move.

Exodus from Hong Kong
Tens of thousands have left Hong Kong due to the imposition of a draconian national security law and some of the world’s longest-lasting COVID restrictions [File:Justin Chin/Bloomberg]

For young Hong Kongers who have chosen to stay in the city, some have found purpose through the city’s localist movement. The movement, which has emerged over the past 15 years, has sought to preserve the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China, whether it’s the Cantonese language, colonial-era architecture or cafes. cha chaan teng which serve hybrid West-Cantonese cuisine.

Jen, a 25-year-old Hong Konger who runs a cultural space and conducts research on Hong Kong culture, said exploring the city’s culture can allow for a modicum of freedom of expression even if political activism openly is restricted.

“I think a lot of people are talking about migrating to another place, but I think after 2019 a lot of people have also become interested in – or feel the importance of – researching and understanding Hong Kong culture,” said- she told Al Jazeera. .

“I feel there is something that can be done [here], providing space for different cultural events. We cannot do large scale protests or celebrate June 4 [the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings in Beijing], but that does not mean that everything has stopped. I want to continue with small scale stuff.

Olivia, a media worker born at the time of the handover, said that although she mentally prepared for more drastic changes, such as the closure of her media outlet, she found solace in her community.

“Even if we cannot make our voices heard [heard]we can still connect with the people around us,” Olivia told Al Jazeera, asking to be referred to by her first name only.

Recalling a recent visit to a friend who is serving a prison sentence for his political activism, she said she realized the importance of staying in Hong Kong to support her friends in difficult circumstances.

“Even though we can’t touch each other [when I visited], we could only see and talk to each other, we connect. I can see him smiling,” she said. “I can hear his voice, and that’s really important. This is one of the reasons why I still stay in Hong Kong.

Must Read