Mind the Generation Gap

December 2016 - That which divides us — By on December 2, 2016 2:34 PM
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The gap between the young and the old has widened into a chasm since the Umbrella Movement. How can this generational conflict be resolved?

By Megan Leung & Lynette Zhang

“There are so many old people this year, this is the first time I have hated them so much,” wrote one commenter.

“This is the first time I have wanted the elderly in Hong Kong to die. They’re dragging everyone else down,” wrote another.

These comments on September 4, the day of the Legislative Council (Legco) election, were in response to a post on the Facebook page of 100-Most, a youth-oriented satirical magazine and website.

The boundary between generations has always existed, but in Hong Kong in recent years the generation gap has widened into a chasm, especially since the Umbrella Movement in 2014. Two years later, it intensified further as a record number of candidates representing different parties and factions competed in the first Legco election since the movement ended.

The election brought out a record number of voters with a turnout rate of 58.28 per cent. Among all eligible voters, the turnout rate of the 61-and-above age group increased the most – by 23.7% compared to the 2012 Legco election.

While increased participation may indicate more people are taking their civic responsibilities seriously, many youngsters question whether elderly people made informed and conscious decisions when casting their votes. During the election, footage circulated of elderly voters being briefed to vote for a specific candidate before voting and being brought to polling stations in groups.

 

To look at how the younger generation’s opinions about the elderly changed after the Umbrella Movement, Varsity conducted a social media analysis of posts in 100-Most’s Facebook page, since it was established a year before the movement and reflects the views of young people.
We picked three events: The Umbrella Movement, the 2016 Mong Kok civil unrest and the 2016 Legco election. We collected posts and comments over a month, starting from each of the three events and studied the posts and comments about the elderly.

 

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Umbrella Movement: No extremely negative comments, the focus is more on the conflicts between blue ribbons and yellow ribbons. Most of the posts do not talk about the elderly or generational problems.
Mong Kok Civil Unrest: Obvious negative comments appeared, but the wording is not so aggressive.
Legco election: Negative comments appeared which were obvious and extreme, containing words like “fogeys” (老野) “all die” (死嗮) “may you have nothing to depend on in your old age” (祝老無所依) “useless oldies” (廢老廢中) etc., but many neutral comments tend to link the election result to the elderly.

Right after the Legco election, anti-elderly Facebook pages began to appear. Most of these did not gain many followers, but one, “hkelderlymemes”, had more than 36,000 as of the beginning of November.

The “hkelderlymemes” page presents itself as a “just for fun” Facebook page that publishes funny elderly-themed posts. It was set up a day after the Legco election and quickly built up a following.

 

The cover photo of hkelderlymemes, it reads: "I don't know any about political platform, I vote because they give me mooncakes."

The cover photo of hkelderlymemes, it reads: “I don’t know any about political platform, I vote because they give me mooncakes.”

The posts published tend to be related to news and politics, but they also feature stereotypes and send-ups of the elderly. The page administrators also assume the persona of elderly people to mock their mindset and show how different it is from that of the younger generation.

Granny Lam, 70, resembles one of the typical elderly people targeted by anti-elderly pages. She disagrees with the political views of most youngsters although she rarely discusses it openly, even with her friends.

Every afternoon, she and her neighbours gather on and around benches in the pavilion outside the Wong Tai Sin MTR station, chatting and spending their day together. The neighbourhood has one of the largest elderly populations in Hong Kong.

Granny Lam was born and raised in the area and says she has witnessed how much the district and Hong Kong have changed over the years.

“Your generation has never had a taste of how hard life can be, like in our times. You lot are blessed,” says Lam who thinks the younger generation fails to realise how fortunate they already are.

She also expresses her disappointment with Hong Kong’s political situation in recent years, particularly with the social movements in which many young people took part.

“I have made it clear to my grandchildren that whoever gets into such trouble will have to leave the house,” says Lam. Comfortingly for her, Lam’s three grandchildren all “behave well and make no trouble”. She says a young person’s duty is to get a proper education and contribute to society instead of creating disputes.

Many of Lam’s peers feel the same way about youngsters. Older people use labels such as “useless youth” and “Kong kids” to describe the younger generation as they are considered to be troublemakers who make a mess that society has to clean up afterwards.

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