This explains why 20-year-old Joshua Ng Yuet-shing returned to Canada with his family last August. “In other countries, education doesn’t serve the sole purpose of finding a job,” Ng told Varsity from Toronto. “They [the professors] really want to teach and they really want you to learn something.”
In Hong Kong, Ng’s family had faced financial pressure from high property prices and increasing rent. The family of four moved from a 600 sq ft apartment to a 300 sq ft one. “Middle-class people like us aren’t given any breaks in the [government’s] budget announcements,” he adds.
Runaway property prices are a headache for both the government and those who do not and cannot own a flat. Some scholars argue property ownership is the bedrock supporting the younger generation’s material and emotional attachment to a city.
“If young people can’t even afford a flat, how can they build the sense of belonging to this city?” asks Chung Kim-wah, an assistant professor of Applied Social Science at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Earlier this year, Chung held a focus group to conduct research for the government’s Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee. During a discussion among young professionals, one said he would rather emigrate than save to buy a tiny, expensive flat in Hong Kong. Others immediately jumped in to agree. “The anger of young people is obvious. Even if they work hard to save money, a price surge in the property market can wipe out their years of effort,” says Chung.
Chung says he has observed that the people who have emigrated in recent years have been younger than those who left in the great outflow of local people in the 1990s. Besides property prices, he says the changing political environment and expectations of young people have also been factors.
“Young people now look for self-development, more freedom and private space,” he says. “They now want to engage in politics more actively but the political environment is getting more repressed.”
However, Victor Zheng, the co-director of the Centre for Social and Political Development Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, plays down any talk of a new wave of emigration. “Emigration is a very important decision. [Mass migration] is not going to happen unless there are huge incidents, like a massive riot in China, political persecutions or an outbreak of disease.”
Zheng views the current migration levels as normal and even desirable. “Normal flows of people can facilitate social mobility to a certain extent. People leaving from the high positions will create vacancies for the others to fill,” he explains. Despite widespread discontent with the government and deepening social problems, Zheng believes Hong Kong people’s sense of belonging remains strong.