The Post-80s from Another Angle

“Recently many people have been talking about the ‘post-80s’ and these include officials in your administration, current event commentators, and even sociology academics. One time when I turned to the entertainment section of a newspaper I discovered that even the newly rising stars are described as the ‘post-80s’. All such references may be well- meant, but I think some of them are beside the point. For example, you mentioned in your blog that we post-80s, as compared with the previous generation(s), are not simply concerned with owning a home, but also set a store by things like what kind of facilities are available, what size the swimming pool is, and whether there is enough privacy. In fact, after we post-80s read that piece, we were in ‘jaw-dropping’ astonishment. We feel there have been some big mistakes. What we care about is not what kind of club facilities we have or how big the swimming pools are, but rather, the fate of a city. Our concept about family goes beyond the private housing estate, and it concerns the future of the whole of Hong Kong. Does our city have respect for and the will to protect the fruit of her hard work? Whether it is the reserves that she has struggled to accumulate, or the deeply rooted community that dates back so many years?

All in all, the difference between the private estate club and the whole of Hong Kong may well be the important face-off point in the post-80s interpretation debate. In fact, this face-off owes itself to a bit of Hong Kong’s history. Having glanced through books about Hong Kong’s development history, I suspect that today’s New Town Plaza (in Shatin) is the dividing line between your generation and the post-80s. Why do I say this? When one looks back at the early 1980s when New Town Plaza was completed, I know your generation considered the Plaza as a token of city modernization and progress, which epitomized civilization. This is because at that time there still existed a lot of wooden huts and most districts lacked integral town planning. So people of your generation thought this enclosed consumer space located in a new town, that had a water fountain and spot lights shining on merchandise, was a good environment and represented a city’s progress. Thirty years later, there could well be another such plaza in West Kowloon. The break-off point is that our generation did not grow up with the experience of ‘plaza is a wonder’. The post-80s would loiter in such plazas everyday after school; they would visit larger malls farther away on weekends; and on festive days, they would all crowd into the biggest malls on Hong Kong island and just hang around there. These repeating exercises take up most of the post-80s’ city-life time. We cannot feel that kind of progress and civilization, nor the experience of seeing improvement in a city. On the contrary, we feel kind of bored, a kind of monotony. Inside all the malls are the same transnational designer brands, and the shops and food outlets are places with no history, no community connection and no story behind them. So, Secretary Tsang, I don’t know if you’ll agree – New Town Plaza is the dividing line between our two generations. If we are to take another step forward at this point in time, it is not to repeat the early 80s’ experience and build more New Town Plazas, but to look back at the past and see what we missed out in such kind of development.

Actually the mistaken perception, apart from that which emanates from the urban spatial experience, can also be found in the book “Four Generations of Hong Kong People” (四代香港人) by local sociologist Lui Dai Lok (呂大樂). Many viewpoints in the book have been used to apply to the post-80s’ anti-express rail link protests. I think that’s missing the point. Why? Because that book was written by someone with the previous generation’s spectacles and mindset. It tries to interpret the dispute between this generation and the previous generation(s) in terms of whether this generation can ever get ahead in their career and whether the previous generation(s) are overstaying in their career positions, thus denying youngsters their opportunities, making them want to protest and fight for their careers and better benefits. But this is not the truth. Most of those who protest against the express rail link have steady employment. Some of them have part-time jobs, but can still get by. Some of them are still studying. But our aspirations are not about improving our work benefits or getting ahead in our career. Even if you give us a job, or better pay, that would only be a means of increasing our resources to participate in social reforms. Your and the media’s trying to use Lui’s ‘getting ahead or not’ theory is not only a misunderstanding, it’s in fact misleading. It makes the society think that the problem can be solved by improving the economy and employment. But that’s not the answer, and it’s totally irrelevant.

So what are our aspirations? Secretary Tsang, please listen up. What we are fighting for is not an improvement in economy. Nor is it our livelihood. Nor is it as simple as the traditional universal suffrage question. What we aspire to is the reclaiming of the city space. This may be a strange concept for a lot of people. But for our generation, this is an unequivocal aspiration. In fact, we post-80s did not just emerge at the end of 2009. Three years ago in the Queen’s Pier movement, we were already there. Further back, we actually came from the social movement. If you still remember the demolition of buildings on Wedding Card Street – that was when both the residents and the street were so full of vitality, but they were forcibly evacuated. The reason we came out to the streets is that in our belief and memory, we see what’s really important in Hong Kong are the laboring masses, the community that belongs to the citizens, the homes and the stories that belong to them. When we walk into a community, like that of Choi Yuen Tsuen (菜園村), we can sense the liveliness of the place, and those having lived there for generations and who have rooted themselves there can tell us where they came from. We must remember those who are much older than ourselves, who may not live in the Mid-Levels but who are ordinary citizens living in aged communities – their stories are very important. Our city should not be monopolized by big shopping malls. 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.