Hong Kong Youth’s Upward Social Mobility

May 16, 2022 Updated: May 16, 2022


John Lee, the sole candidate in Hong Kong’s chief executive election subsequently elected on May 8, recently released his political platform. In it, he mentioned the career development of junior high students suffering from crowded housing conditions, and indicated that he would offer assistance.

In recent years, young people in the territory have been handicapped by the decline in upward social mobility opportunities; they cannot hope to afford their own housing except with their parents’ support. Hence their dissatisfaction has been exacerbating, especially regarding the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

These problems are not unique to Hong Kong; they are common throughout East Asia. But the youth of Hong Kong realize that they have no democracy; the government does not have to be accountable to the people, and they have no voice in the chief executive election.

In the second half of 2019, the violence from some youths during the street protests surprised all parties concerned; the result was suppression. The young people no longer believed that the government cares about their grievances.

Regarding the political campaigns since 2014, the Hong Kong government has expressed its belief that the underlying issues lie in education. The subject of general education emerged as the focus of the establishment’s criticisms; its major faults have been encouraging students to be concerned about social issues and cultivating their critical thinking.

Today, the teachers of that school of thought are facing serious difficulties, and they easily get into trouble for speaking their mind. However, following the government’s guidelines goes against their conscience.

Politically active students are still a minority. And many university graduates face the basic challenge that they are no longer in short supply and have to adjust their career expectations. University education often cannot meet the demands of the job market—further studies are expected. Life education and constantly improving oneself are the normal strategy.

Unjust competition is a common complaint from the young people. About a decade ago, a cleaner at the university where l worked had a son who just graduated from the university, and I congratulated him. But he was worried that he had no social networks and his son would be handicapped in seeking employment. I had not realized that grassroots families had such worries.

In recent years, I learned from my lawyer friends that the summer apprenticeships of the top local law firms are closely monitored by their senior partners—even ordinary partners have no say. The simple reason is demand and supply; vacancies are very few and the top law firms can only entertain their most important clients. Without family connections, it is not easy to secure the most sought after summer apprenticeships; and those who fail to do so are handicapped when they seek employment after graduation.

Before retirement, I worked at the City University of Hong Kong. My students often complained that they did not even get interviewed for trainee positions at investment banks and multinational corporations. Interviews have to mobilize the senior management of these major corporations, and their time is limited. Hence these corporations only interview very selective groups of applicants; namely, the top graduates of the top three local universities and the most prestigious ones from the United States and the United Kingdom. The top ten law firms in the United States normally only recruit from the top ten American law schools.

Parents in Hong Kong understand that their children must excel at the starting lines. Students from poor families therefore face even greater difficulties. Some years ago, I had a conversation with a taxi driver. He recognised me as a professor, and told me that although his son was admitted to a prestigious primary school, he decided to abandon the offer. He said that he could not give his son what his classmates had, and he did not want his son to feel inferior. I had nothing to say.

I attended a prestigious school when I was young, and I was poor then. But at that time, we did not pay attention to the brands of each other’s sports shoes and clothes; and we did not discuss where we went to travel in our holidays. I did not feel inferior then, but I understand the situation today is very different. Candidates applying to enter prestigious primary schools are asked to name their second musical instruments; that is to say, playing the piano is a must. I had not touched a piano in my entire student career.

The government, while encouraging the direct subsidy system to save costs, should expand and not contract the prestigious government secondary schools, so as to offer students from grassroots families’ quality education. At a societal level, it should provide subsidised and free extracurricular activities, while financially supporting the civil society organizations that are best placed to offer them. The objective is to facilitate a similar starting line for students of all social classes to enjoy.

There is no choice for Hong Kong people in the recent chief executive election—the community understands that its views do not carry any weight. Hence there is little discussion on the policy programs of the new administration. Young people are probably more interested in learning more about their emigration options.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Joseph Cheng
Joseph Yu-shek Cheng is a retired professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong. He publishes widely on the political developments in China and Hong Kong, Chinese foreign policy, and development in southern China. He has been an activist serving the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for four decades. In his retirement, he continues to work as a current affairs commentator and columnist. Email: josephcheng6@gmail.com