It was only last two months or so, when Hong Kong’s Education Undersecretary Christine Choi Yuk Lin was “congratulated” by Hong Kong anti-China youths and young adults for the loss of her son due to suicide, and these commentators were condemned for making fun of a parent’s loss and a young adult’s loss of life. Yet Shih Wing Ching, the founder of the newspaper AM730, wrote in his column on his own newspaper, titled “Why are so many students feeling depressed?” (23/11/2017), making light of the social phenomenon in today’s Hong Kong whereby students as young as primary schoolers are suffering from depression. If the younger generations of Hong Kongers were heavily criticised for taking a loss of life lightly, surely people would be angry that Shih’s comments are just as “cold-hearted” as well? Not so, for in Hong Kong today where it is the elderly generations that hold power, the younger generations are often portrayed as weak, useless and juvenile; Shih Wing Ching’s column article only illustrate the sentiment common amongst Hong Kong’s elderly generations, his citation of a taxi driver’s opinion demonstrates this.
In his article, Shih Wing Ching couldn’t be more disconnected from reality, when he oversimplified the pressures Hong Kong’s young people have to face to a matter of material wants and being mollycoddled by parents and the society at large. Shih criticised young Hong Kongers for unable to face hardships and unfavourable situations in life; having wants that exceeds their or their parents’ financial situations; taking things for granted; being “too well-fed” and “overly protected”; and being ungrateful for social changes that he himself never had during childhood. He isn’t alone in his sentiment, as many figures in the establishment have also made the criticism that young Hong Kongers are delusional in their ideals; for example, Elsie Leung had once questioned “how can we pass Hong Kong onto these young people”; Rita Fan slammed Hong Kong younger population for being delusional in dreaming of a Hong Kong free from Chinese interference; former Education Secretary Eddie Ng had attacked young Hong Kongers for a lack of career planning; and the Hong Kong SAR regime had indirectly accused young Hong Kongers of being unable to accept life’s difficulties in an advertisement campaign to deal with youth suicides earlier in 2016.
One problem Shih had in his comment was his “back in my day” rhetoric, for back in his day it was the British who administer to Hong Kong, and during MacLehose’s administration people were given the hope of being able to climb the ladder of Hong Kong society, that people could actually dream of a better life if only they put in the effort. Back in those days, if someone finds that they are incapable of excelling academically, they can find a trade for apprenticeship and still afford to live comfortably; and for those who can excel academically, they could find high end employment that would allow them to live very well off. In the case of the legendary Li Ka Shing, you could start from being a factory work to owning your own plastic factory and end up being a tycoon. In today’s Hong Kong however, there is no hope, no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. A young couple both fresh law graduates and practicing lawyers could still find themselves unable to afford their own adequate-sized apartment and forced to live in “subdivided flats”; a young adult could count themselves lucky if their parents can afford to lend them money to put down a home loan deposit; a young man eligible for public housing becoming a hot item for potential parents-in-law; and raising a family at an early age is increasingly a privilege for the elite. More importantly, in today’s Hong Kong, it is not the moral British protectors running the show but an immoral and unethical Chinese overlord.
The other problem Shih as is he is as disconnected from the lives of primary schoolers in Hong Kong today as Mars from Earth. Before the education reform that saw the end of half-day schooling, students had somewhat ample time not only to revise their learning, participate in extra-curricular activities after school, but to be kids as well: to have fun, play with their friends and watch cartoons in the afternoon. Yes, Shih is correct in recalling that school back in those days had its own overload of tests and homework, but today’s situation has surpassed even that. Yes, in those days academic competition was high and many students could find themselves being left in the dust but there were other avenues for a livelihood as mentioned earlier, but in today’s Hong Kong many higher end employment requires at least a master degree, now that tertiary education is commonplace and had lost some of its value.
The situation faced by young students in Hong Kong on a daily basis could be described as follows:
* You wake up and go to school;
* You are at school for the whole day with inadequate recess time (sometimes you lose even that if your class teacher decided to use it for cram sessions);
* You go to cram classes after school to boost your chances of passing exams and tests;
* You are often enrolled into extra-curricular lessons such as ballet or piano by your parents that you have no interest in;
* You come home, and after a shower and getting changed, you are mired by piles of homework due tomorrow and endless revision for upcoming tests and exams. Afternoon cartoons? Going to the local ball courts to play with friends? Ha! What’s that?
* Your mother keeps pestering you to practice your piano;
* After dinner, you are once again embroiled with homework;
* After homework and revisions you go to bed, only to wake up the next day to do it all again;
In addition to this hectic schedule, students often find themselves with teachers unsympathetic to their situation or any problems they face, such as bullying by their peers, and now made to attend brain-washing propaganda sessions by the school administration and education department. At home, a student is lucky if they have sympathetic parents but many have “tiger-parents” instead, who feels that the school is doing not enough or giving enough homework and tests. Students may have their own wishes and ambitions, but they may often find them quashed by reality and go unrealized. Under such a high pressured and stifling atmosphere, it’s like an animal caged in a constricting confine; is it any wonder these young Hong Kongers lose hope and fall into depression?
In the story of Peter Pan, there is the fictional Neverland, a place where grown-ups are pirates and the protagonists are kids, both sides engaged in a seemingly never ending war. Captain Hook who leads the pirates wants to rule the entire island, defeat Peter Pan and make the Lost Boys his slaves. Peter Pan and his Lost Boys on the other hand want to keep their freedoms and fights with their imagination against the pirates’ superior firepower. This scenario would not be alien to many young Hong Kongers today. If anyone remembers the movie, Hook, Peter Pan once left Neverland to pursue his dream of fatherhood, just like many Hong Kongers who lost their innocence in search of their own dreams. In the process, Peter Pan lost his happy thoughts and forgot how to fly, just as Hong Kongers lost their happiness and forgot the golden days of Hong Kong. In Hook, Peter Pan returns to Neverland to learn how to be Peter Pan again and defeat Captain Hook once and for all. In Hong Kong, some people are trying to fight the loss of innocence and freedom to fight the pirates from up north.
For myself, I quote from Rufio, leader of the Lost Boys since Peter Pan left Neverland the first time and upon Peter’s return:
“All grown-ups are pirates! We kill pirates.”