20 January 2010

High Speed, High Drama – Part 2 高鐵鬧劇-下卷


It frustrates and it infuriates. At times it makes us question the very future of our city.




The express rail link (XRL) controversy has hit a nerve in Hong Kong. What started out as a rubber-stamping exercise has snowballed into an all-out social movement gaining more momentum by the day. In less than two weeks, this runaway train will collide with the upcoming five constituencies resignation (五區總辭), a de facto referendum on political reforms staged by two pan-democratic parties. The collision is guaranteed to send shock waves through our political landscape not seen since the July 1st rally in 2003. And the new decade has barely begun.



As we well know and mourn, Hong Kong’s one-of-a-kind electoral system is as bizarre as some of the English names we give ourselves. Among other oddities, half of the 60 seats in our legislature are taken by “functional constituencies” (功能組別) elected by pro-establishment special interest groups and designed to keep democratically-elected lawmakers out of the policy-making process. Like a boxer who is only allowed to block, opposition parties are left with two defensive weapons: filibusters and a veto vote over constitutional amendments. Undemocratic as it is, our electoral design has so far remained something of an academic subject. Citizens have not felt its sting on a personal, tangible level – that is until now. The XRL saga has brought to light not only the systemic absence of government accountability but also the utter powerlessness of the opposition coalition under the status quo. Our grotesque legislative process has finally reared its ugly head, and it did so in the plain sight of a watching city.



The city wouldn’t have been watching quite so closely if not for the exploits of a few dozens restless youths. Amidst the political maelstrom emerged a new social force that has caught the government completely off-guard. Known fondly in the local vernacular as the “post-80s” (八十後) generation, these trucker-hat-wearing, iPhone-wielding twenty-somethings have succeeded in turning a run-of-the-mill government infrastructure proposal into a lightning rod for social discontent. With seemingly inexhaustible time and energy, young protestors besieged the legislature for weeks. They circled the century-old building the way the Children of Israel did in the battle of Jericho, and the walls of public opinion came tumbling down. On the night lawmakers finally cast their vote on the XRL proposal, angry protestors played tug-of-war with police using iron barricades and kept transport secretary Eva Cheng Yu Wah (鄭汝樺) under house arrest in Central for six hours.



A lot of ink has been spilled by the media over these post-80s activists since the controversy erupted. Most of these discussions are based on broad generalizations and focus more on how we look at them – their frustration and angst caused by the recession and the missing rungs in the socio-economic ladders – rather than how they view the rest of us. By-and-large, these youths come from the demographic cohort of liberal-minded, Internet-savvy university graduates born during the Booming Eighties. Whether by choice or by circumstance, these twenty-somethings are not particularly career-minded and many loathe the idea of a nine-to-five job. But what they lack in ambition in the material world they make up for in passion and gumption. They root for society’s under-dogs and hate being pushed around by the upper-crust. Above all, they just want to be heard.



If there were a rulebook for politics, it would begin with the Law of Unintended Consequences. By writing off the young dissenters as a bunch of know-nothing, do-nothing social rejects, the government has inadvertently driven them into forming an unlikely alliance with the League of Social Democrats (社民連). Loud, radical and controversial, the LSD nonetheless possesses just the right mix of grit and political acumen to appeal to these young activists. In the XRL saga, the banana throwing lawmakers taught the new-kids-on the-block an important lesson on local politics: in the absence of true democracy, playing Mr. Nice Guy will get you nowhere. A little shouting and shoving around, on the other hand, can go a long way.



Still, the government appears to be doing little to defuse this ticking social time-bomb. When the Facebook and Twitter soldiers came marching in, bureaucrats responded with riot police and pepper spray, trying to fight a 21st Century cultural war using 20th Century weaponry. Meanwhile, the public seems equally unwilling and ill-prepared to get through to these young men and women. Like an annoying uncle at a family dinner, newspaper columnists and talk show hosts hand down their predictable verdict, dishing out trite rhetoric like “expressing opinions is laudable but aggressive behaviors must not be condoned.” Heres to Uncle Bob: save your breath and have a nice day.



My family and I attended some of the protests at Chater Garden last weekend. The collective frustration over our government’s arrogance and lack of accountability was palpable. For a few brief moments it felt as though our long-lost civic conscience had flickered back to life. At a time when the news media are neutered by self-censorship, university students are sleepwalking through their adolescence and the opposition coalition is about to collapse on itself, the post-80s generation has shown us that all is not lost. Will these twenty-somethings rise to the occasion and grab the lightning before their fifteen minutes of fame run out? Do they hold the key to turning Hong Kong from an economic city to a true democracy? Only time will tell. But for now one thing is certain: young activists are not what is wrong with this world.



30 comments:

  1. Another perspective that may interest you.

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=254757967449&id=846895053&ref=mf

    S.C.

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  2. that's exactly what I have observed from the protest most of the time, it's not really my hope to have our future like this.... just wonder if they knew what they were doing for....

    J.

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  3. Well, I hope our hope doesnt count on someone who act like those Taiwanese Politicans..speaking out loud and act vigorously doesnt mean they are right.Peronsally, i am in fully support of the railway, but surely, the government should have done a better job during consultation.

    P.

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  4. P, until we have universal suffrage and true democracy, civil disobedience is ALL we have to be heard and to effect change.

    Jason

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  5. Got that one right.

    C.

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  6. Correct but just keep our fingers crossed that the civil disobedience will not lead to any bloody incidence giving the authority (including the big brother up north )any excuses to delay and even deny universal suffrage to HK as that will be the day that HK die out of suffocation.

    S.L.

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  7. 看過一些年青人寫「八十後」的文章和前電視報導員的慧眼看世界後有點感觸, 文章解釋說:「八十後」之所以會鼓噪是因為香港政府施政往往政策失誤而引致。 青年說:「十年前, 政府告訴我們只要有大學學歷才有好日子過; 今天, 是你們說大學生沒有經驗, 沒有視野和議價能力; 十年前, 政府硬銷母語教學, 今天, 是你們說年輕人的中英文水平下降; 十年前, 失業率高企, 為了降低青年失業率, 政府開辦了一連串學士學位和副學士學位, 今天, 也是你們大學生多到一文不值…」

    年輕人沒有足夠能力去決定人生路方向時, 成年人就以家長式懷著中國傳統思想為他們安排出路, 籌劃未來。 上一代的人因日軍侵略香港, 社會動盪, 經歷了艱辛生活, 又沒有錢讀書, 明白到沒有學歷和一技術旁身會影響前途, 他們不想下一代重蹈過去的苦日子, 只要能力許可的都想盡辦法為兒女提供優質生活。 可是當社會愈是富裕, 父母和長輩就作出愈多的保護和過分體貼安排時, 除了得不到下一代的欣賞, 還激引起他們的「抗逆」能力, 將所有人生「問題」都「歸罪於外」, 迷失了人生方向。

    可能我們的社會真的患上了「富貴病」, 由「三十後」到「八十後」都病了。 「五十後」怕失去, 結果為了「北水」而有損骨氣, 目光變得短淺; 上樑不正下樑歪, 上一代只懂向「阿爺」伸手, 下一代便會有樣學樣, 只懂批判社會為他們做得不夠, 卻不懂得憑個人能力和努力闖出未來!

    Y.

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  8. I am very impressed by the post-80 young people. Very inspiring and non conventional. Their response at interviews are very clear minded.

    Helen

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  9. "Young activists are not what is wrong with this world." THIS IS SO TRUE, BUT WHO CAN RIGHT THE WRONGS AS THOSE ELITE MEMBERS OF OUR SOCIETY TEND TO WRONG THE RIGHTS MOST OF THE TIME.

    SL.

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  10. Idealistic as these youngsters are, their belief that persistence pays off kept their adrenaline surging. In another epoch, trust that they will consider quiet diplomacy at first before taking an action packed stint. But if they will have sensed a no win arena, they will be bold and daring yet again,if only to be heard.

    mrt

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  11. HK people can tolerate their Legco no more.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Blk68NUxdd8&feature=related

    Kelvin

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  12. Age group is such a generalization that carries very little meaning. the discussion is more interesting if we try to identify segments with attitudinal differences, which translates into behavioral and demographic patterns.

    E.

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  13. I think you can assume that the term refers to the social activist segment of that generation. And the issue is whether or not their action in the recent XRL controversy appeals to you.

    Jason

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  14. Sorry but I really find your analysis quite shallow and just stating the obvious. There are a lot more insightful analysis on different Facebook groups, arguing for both sides.

    The comments from Y did provide some excellent insights. Every young generation had their own problem when they first enter the society. Everyone else found their way to get to where they want to be - why should the post-80's be any different? That being said, I know those thugs are only the minoriy among that age group. Go to other sites and you'll get to meet a lot of bright young people. Our future will depend on them.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment, and there's certainly no need to apologize!

    I noted some inconsistencies in your words: you think I am "just stating the obvious" (implying that you agree with my position on the post-80s generation) and yet you seem to dislike them by, among other things, calling them "thugs". It leaves me a little confused as to what your position is.

    As for the many other insightful analyses on different Facebook groups you mentioned, it would be very helpful to me and to my readers if you could share some of them here.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  16. Jason, I have been following your articles to learn more about this XRL saga, also getting some insights about the 'Post-80' generation. Being a parent myself, I feel for not only the 'post-80' generation, but their parents too. Growing up wrapped in cotton wool often robs kids of the opportunity to mature. How do you balance caring for them and letting them grow up? I certainly don't find your articles shallow, but quite the opposite, very insightful.

    Margaret

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  17. Caution and wisdom are the words that came to mind in watching what transpired at Legco last Saturday. The idealism and passion of youth are great virtues but too often, in situations of social activism, they can be manipulated, misused, and abused by those whose agendas are far less than noble. Politics are murky waters where even the purest of heart or intentions can be muddled and muddied. I'm not for the XRL especially if ancestral and agricultural lands have to be sacrificed for it. Concrete cannot feed a hungry stomach. Progress, if it is true progress, must be balanced-- Agriculture and technology (or vice-versa), hand-in-hand.

    MTF

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  18. Just like the rapid rise and fall of any other buzzword, I don't expect the much-touted "post-80s phenomenon" would help foster any fundamental change in the mentality of the people of H.K. Our superstition in the power of money is so deeply rooted in our DNA that even education is tainted. Without knowing what education is truly about and a system that can groom us and our children to become human beings of empathy and integrity, how can we achieve any meaningful change in the community for the good?

    To put it plainly, we only hope that our generation can do something so that our next generation need not live their lives day in day out in boring and monopolizing shopping malls like we post-80s do.

    Y.

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  19. It's a result of not being given a voice and identiity in society. It's nothing to do with the Express Rail. I learnt that the government is soon to open a dialogue with the Post-80s after the protest outside Legco last week. It gives an impression that the government will only heed people's views everytime when there are someone resorting to violence. It just conveys a very negative message to protesters that violence is the way to make the government hear and I doubt if conversation of this kind is real genuine and sustainable.

    O.C.

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  20. The Express Rail merely provides a really good trigger for the Post-80s to let people know their grievances towards they way they are governed.

    O.C.

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  21. If the gov't will initiate dialogues with the post 80's, unadulterated or not, it shows a minute success on the part of these youngsters (having aimed to be heard) and a degree of willingness on the side of the gov't to take heed. Change doesn't happen in a fortnight. The post 80's exercised the very fundamental right to freedom of thought.

    MT

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  22. Post-80s is just like the post-70s or any other generation older or younger, the only difference is that their future looks dimmer with what today this twisted society has to offer in turns of value and justice. Hong Kong is such a materialistic place whereby the value of money is placed high above anything else, Even the leftest are after personal well beings with their yes man attitude towards Mainland. With US sinking and China rusting, seems there is not a good place on earth to live. Who do you trust and who can you depend on ? We have a rotten system in the Government that respect the Riches and deaf with the Poor.

    S.L.

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  23. Yes, the future of the Post-80 and the generation younger looks dimmer. They have to put up more efforts in climbing the socio- economical ladder. May be these youngsters can speak up and stand up more freely than we old guys who are tied down by home mortgages.

    Helen

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  24. Lucky you to only have mortgages to worry, these youngsters not just standing up for themselves but also for us in some very indirect way, we just have to pray and give them our silent support in such a way not to induce or put them into a position for violence as hot blooded youngsters are hard to predict. Seems all just happened yesterday when we were young.

    S.L.

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  25. Wanna know more about their visions of their actions and how they could motivate their peers in future, because youngers are not as united as students in early70's. However, the society should tolerate and listen to them so that we could reform the society and pave a better path for the next generations.

    W.

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  26. Quote unquote. " That being said, I know those thugs are only the minoriy among that age group. Go to other sites and you'll get to meet a lot of bright young people. Our future will depend on them." by Anonymous.

    What a miserable thing to refer to these youngsters as thugs! I believe that they took their voice to Legco to make a strong point. I suppose if you (Anonymous whatsoever)are not directly affected with certain issues/decisions by the govt, you cant relate to the residents (of whom the post 80's strongly feel for) who are affected by how the gov't deal with some issues, you do sit there pathetically labelling them who feel empowered to stand up for their cause. After all, it is not you who has to get his life altered, who's not affected socio-economically.

    Just a thought for you, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has (M. Mead)

    You spiced up the thread though.

    MT

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  27. Live and let live y'all .....

    ReplyDelete
  28. rita veronica leungJanuary 26, 2010 at 12:33 AM

    未說服到我用669億公帑起呢條高鐵 this group has 28647 members now , the numbers of this group has been growing very quickly within this week while 撐起高鐵.撐起香港 has 30726 members but it has been growing very slowly and 我唔係反高鐵, 我反高鐵走線!!! has 4544 members now, it has stopped growing.
    mr. anonymous, i think if the expenditure of this railway is not that high, there will be more pplz to support . HK govt is a big failure even for the rolling stones concert, our govt. has been stupid enough to believe in an american fraud cheated so much of its money which is actually our money!!! So the 669億 should be somewhat much lesser in reality

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  29. Can someone please explain to me how those 5 idiots justify resignation and re-electing for the same positions? I know they have some quasi-logic about how they run for re-election to show how much support they have but for me that's not good enough. To me, they just seem like they are immature and unable to get things done. All they know is how to curse and insult people.

    I am unsure how anyone can support those pan-democrats and if the post-80s want my support, they better not associate themselves with those guys.

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  30. Hi Anonymous,

    I would be more than happy to explain things to you, but you must first stop calling people "idiots" before you figure out who your friends and your enemies are. You owe yourself at least that.

    Jason

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