The Wall Street Journal recently published two pieces on the different responses of older generations of Hong Kongers and the youth of the city.
China’s World: The View on Protests From Old Hong KongA Walk to the Past: Some Veterans Remember Having a Lot Less Say in City’s FateIn Hong Kong, a Family DividedAfter Pro-Democracy Protests, a Son Faces Arguments at Home
According to a community elder in the first article, "there’s freedom to work and freedom to live. 'How can people criticize?'"
Perhaps that was enough for our parents' or grandparents' generation—but it's not enough for people coming of age today. Those who came before struggled, bled, and worked themselves to the bone to give us, their 後代, a better future.
But what does a "better future" mean? It means we have an opportunity to become ourselves. We have a choice of being anything we want to be—doctors and lawyers, artists and designers, or even politicians and social activists. To love whomever we want to love. To lead a life that matches our principles and values and our vision for society.
Their struggle was, in large part, about economic security—something elusive when they were growing up in developing country (literally Third World) conditions. That is why so many of them chose to immigrate to the United States, Canada, Australia, or other countries in search of jobs and opportunity.
However, going abroad wasn't just an economic decision—it was also about human dignity. They worked hard to provide for us, not just so we could live comfortably, but also so we could choose our own future, in a way they might not have been able to. They had to take secure jobs (hi there, engineers!) and work long hours. They had to look for stable income to support a family. They had to stay silent and not express themselves fully. They had to make the conventional and "safe" choices—often under authoritarian threat and political monitoring in Nationalist-ruled Taiwan, or colonial disdain in British-ruled Hong Kong, or immense social pressure in LKY's Singapore, or outright persecution in Maoist China. All this just to live in peace and safety, and have a shot at life.
Now, because of their struggle and sacrifice, we-the-next-generation have the ability to make different choices.
These debates about democracy, activism and social change are not only an issue among Hong Kong's citizenry, though they are literally at the front lines of battle. These debates are manifested between Chinese generations— old and young, parent and child, foreign and native-born—all around the world. It is the ongoing transition from traditional culture to modernity, the ever-present question of the Diaspora, of immigrant families, of pioneering generations, whether in the 19th century, or the 20th, or the 21st.
It is why all of us in the Diaspora must watch what happens in Hong Kong. It is why we should care about the fate of Taiwan's democracy, or whether Singapore fully liberalizes and empowers its opposition. It's why we must be concerned with what happens in China itself. In every Sinic community around the world, the same questions resonate. These struggles and negotiations happen on a daily basis, in the family unit, but also in society more broadly.
Today, I sincerely believe that our parents support us in working for and achieving a better future, because we all ought to have the right to choose.
It's not just about choosing political leadership, though that might be part of the equation. It's about the right to go to the streets. The right to ask for change. It's about having greater agency over the life we wish to live. That right was not available to them. Some would prefer to call this ability to choose a "privilege"—something belonging only to the wealthy or the connected, to those who need not fear social repercussions. However, just because this right was denied to our parents and grandparents does not diminish its worth. It means we ought to cherish it all the more.
Their gift to us was to open a door, to point us toward something different: a world that is less subject to social pressure or familial coercion or political suppression. A world that is freer and truer, that is more benevolent and caring. A world that lets us be who we wish to be.
In our own ways, whether through street protest, or volunteering in the community; through the creation of literature and art, or through political engagement and voting, we can move our society toward that dream. It is not just for us; it is for our 後代 too.
We've been given the opportunity to look upon a better future. We would be remiss not to struggle for it.