changing idea of family in Hong Kong
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Hong Kong’s politically aware millennials are challenging the traditional idea of family

By Kelly Wong & Achlys Xi

Studying in her final year at university, 22-year-old Queenie Chung Xiao-qing has a promising future ahead of her. It is a future she envisages with a husband and children. “I want to get married at 26, the earlier the better…and give birth before 30, to maybe at least one or two children,” she says, wide-eyed with excitement. “Having only one child could be rather boring. Two kids seem much better – perhaps a boy and a girl.”

But as she continues, and she begins to consider the difficulties she may have to face raising a family in Hong Kong, her excitement dims. Even before the 79-day Occupy Movement began, the city had become increasingly polarised, with deep rifts between generations and within families over Hong Kong’s political future and social and cultural values. This has, to varying degrees, affected young people’s views about family – what the concept means, their ties with their families and their desire to form one of their own.

For Chung, Hong Kong’s political situation is a disincentive for her to start a family. “Currently [in Hong Kong] the idea of ‘One Country’ has predominated over the idea of ‘Two Systems’, which makes me worry [about communism and Hong Kong’s future].”

Chung was an active participant in local politics, being a former convener of Scholarism and a member of the Kwu Tung North Development Concern Group.

Queenie Chung Xiao-qing
Queenie Chung Xiao-qing

She is majoring in Chinese language studies and education, and is also worried about the quality of education for her future child. “I will definitely not [send my child into] mainstream schools. As I also study education, I find [the pressure at mainstream schools] hard to withstand. International schools would be the only choice, but then the cost might be out of reach.”

At home, Chung describes her relationship with her family as so-so. “My parents embrace the traditional idea of ‘valuing the sons more than the daughters’ and always pay more attention to my younger brother,” she complains.

Apart from their views on gender differences, Chung also has different political values to her parents. Although they are broadly supportive of democracy, Chung says her mother would have stopped her camping out on the streets during the Occupy Movement if she could because she thought “other people will do it for you”, whereas Chung says she believes that attaining true democracy requires people to make their own effort.

She says she finds her parents’ values and the way they handle differences disappointing, “I am not asking that everyone has the same values in a family…I can accept differences, but my family cannot.”

She says her own relationship with her parents and a desire to do things differently has influenced her eagerness for early marriage. “My parents couldn’t give me the happiness that I wanted. Therefore when forming my own family, I shall not repeat the same mistakes.”

Chan Kin-man, associate professor of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and one of the co-founders of Occupy Central with Love and Peace, observes that this generation of young people faces more conflict with their families because of different political values. “Unlike the previous generations, this generation of youth [born after the handover in 1997] no longer view Hong Kong as merely a labour market or a consumer market. They value Hong Kong as their home – thus their expectations [for Hong Kong’s future] are also different.”

Chan says the Occupy Movement was a catalyst for worsening family relations. “These [conflicts between different values] have been accumulating. Beijing’s increasingly tight grip on Hong Kong affairs since 2003 has made our society more divided politically. During the Occupy Movement, when the society was at its breaking point, intimate relations between many families, lovers and friends were greatly affected.”

He is currently conducting a study on how social movements influence family relationships. He says family is still important although most young people in this generation do not identify with the political values of their parents. “Family is still very important in Hong Kong as a Chinese society.”

Chan elaborates by describing a phenomenon that he has noticed in his sociology class. “Every year, I would ask them [students] to draw a picture that reflects the ‘happiest moment of your life’. Most of them ended up drawing moments they spent with their family, for instance having dinner together in front of television. Such emotional support is especially important, which explains why they treasure family a lot.”

Heily Wong Hei-lam
Heily Wong Hei-lam

Unlike Queenie Chung, 19-year-old Heily Wong Hei-lam has a happy home life. She is close to her parents and receives emotional support from them. Her political stance is also not as strong as Chung’s.

University freshman Wong says she does have arguments with her parents, usually over aspects of her personal life. “They often complain about me getting home late,” she says. “But many of these conflicts are quickly resolved…they [parents] are quite open to discussion.” She thinks it is always important for her parents to express their understanding.

Wong adds she usually avoids discussing politics at home to minimise conflicts and that sharing similar values with her family members helps her to build stronger emotional bonds with them. “If I had to prioritise the importance of my family and friends, family definitely comes first,” she says.

Wong says her parents have given her considerable freedom when it comes to how she wants to form her own family – they would accept cohabitation and children before marriage. “A few of my relatives gave birth before getting married. My parents find that normal,” she says. As for her own thoughts on marriage, Wong thinks it is optional as she is eager to date different men before settling down, and she is not concerned about the issue of whether she will have a child or not.

Her views are not unusual. In a survey of 346 people aged between 18 and 27, Varsity looked into the changing concept of family among this generation of Hong Kong youth. Compared with surveys conducted by other organisations in the past, we found marriage and having children have become less popular while various aspects of the traditional idea of family are being challenged.