Bridging the gaps
2014-05-23, Luo Weiteng

Hong Kong’s post-90s youths and their mainland peers are often viewed as being diverse in almost all aspects due to their vastly different cultural, social and educational backgrounds. But, as Luo Weiteng writes, such diversity is tapering off with both sides trying to assimilate.  

By all appearances, Jia Wanlin is very much in the crowd — she’s no different from a typical post-90s Hong Kong girl.

She lives in Tai Wai with her mainland mother and Hong Kong stepfather, hangs out with her local friends and attends the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) after taking the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) instead of gaokao — the mainland’s college entrance examination.

Born and raised in Shenzhen before moving to Hong Kong in 2008 and labeled a “mainlander-Hongkonger” by her friends, the 22-year-old still sees herself a mainland Chinese of her own.

“In some ways, I’m different from my Hong Kong peers,” says Jia. “Although we all belong to the so-called post-90s generation, we don’t necessarily share the same labels.”

The post-90s generation refers to those born after 1990 and now in their teens, or Generation Z as they’re known in the West. They are portrayed as being selfish and irresponsible — a generation basking in the limelight.

“The media, especially, calls us lazy and over-dependent young people. Although we tend to dismiss this ‘compliment’ as a mere stereotype, I feel there’s an element of truth in it,” Jia admits.

According to the Group Values and Consumer Behaviors of Post-90s Generation Report released by mainland market-monitoring firm, Horizon, in December 2011, more than 90 percent of the mainland’s post-90s youngsters are either totally or largely dependent on their parents to keep themselves financially afloat.   

“Admittedly, Hong Kong’s youths are more independent compared with their mainland counterparts. Most of them support themselves by taking up part-time jobs to pay their university tuition fees,” says Jia.

She says he is much impressed by some of her Hong Kong friends who became financially independent as early as in high school. “They led a hectic life, rushing off to work part-time as soon as they finished their classes,” Jia says.

“Taking up part-time jobs is common among those of my age or older cohorts,” says Kevin Kwong, who was born in Hong Kong in the 1990s. He went to Fujian province for his undergraduate studies and returned to work in the SAR last year.

Kwong revealed he financed his university studies by working part-time as a waiter in restaurants, office clerk, interior decorator and a referee for basketball games, while his mainland classmates tended to extend their financial independence to the postgraduate level.

He said he was astonished when a mainland friend asked him: “Why do you still do part-time jobs?  If you’re financially strapped, I can lend you money.”

“I fully understood he said that out of concern and kindness. But, for Hong Kong’s post-90s generation, working part-time does not necessarily mean their families are not well off,” said Kwong.

Kwong added that Hong Kong’s post-90s youths are more outspoken and eager to express their views, which he attributed to Chinese-language education in Hong Kong.

“The importance of training in debate could never be overemphasized when I was in high school. In every Chinese-language class, we were divided into two groups to debate current affairs,” he said.

A research report on Hong Kong’s post-90s generation by Hong Kong Ideas Center in January last year showed that the city’s post-90s youths are more likely to come up with “radical” ideologies. 

More than half of the post-90s respondents refused to be represented by experts or parties, and advocated group participation and protests.

Jia remarked: “I feel our Hong Kong peers long to make themselves heard even if their opinions are not penetrating or profound.”  

“Eleven” Zhou — a 20-year-old, second-year student at CUHK — disagreed.

Zhou, born in Henan Province, cited students at Fudan University, Jiangxi Agricultural University and Xiangyang No 5 Middle School in Hubei Province as having quoted famous poetry from the Song Dynasty in demanding that air-conditioners be installed in their dormitories.

She also cited a huge protest by students in Sichuan province in 2012 against plans to build a multi-billion-dollar metals plant at Shifang.


Moderate approach

“Sometimes, we may choose a moderate way of expressing ourselves while, on other occasions, we are brave enough to speak up,” said Zhou.

Zhou observed that the mainland’s post-90s students would prefer to dine together or go to karaoke, while their Hong Kong cohorts tend to go hiking or cycling.

“But, the fact is that many of my Hong Kong friends huddle in a 40-square-meter apartment with their parents, brothers and sisters most of the time. They really need some fresh air on weekends,” Zhou said.

Hong Kong students argue that it’s not fair to draw an overall conclusion on how local and mainland youths think or behave.

“Frankly speaking, I don’t believe we can present a reasonable conclusion on the difference between the mainland’s and Hong Kong’s post-90s generation,” says Chan Chi-hou, 24, who moved to Shenzhen at the age of 13 and earned an undergraduate degree at the Renmin University of China in Beijing last year.

 “Compared with Hong Kong’s post-90s young people, their mainland cohorts are much more difficult to define. While studying in Beijing, I mixed with mainland students from various provinces. They do vary a lot with regard to taste, custom and dialects,” said Chan.

He said members of Hong Kong’s post-90s generation are comparatively less diverse in culture because they are not shaped by such an amazing regional diversity on the mainland.


Internet mentality

Zheng Shihao, a 21-year-old mainland student at Hong Kong Baptist University, said he noticed that some of the distinct social and education inclinations between the mainland and Hong Kong post-90s generation are disappearing. In his view, both mainland and Hong Kong youths are tech-savvy and well versed with online life. As the first generation to grow up with the Internet, they are largely shaped by the Internet way of thinking. The increased free flow of information offers them a bulk of common interests and topics, Zheng said.  

“Both our younger generations also have the habit of spending more time on the social media. Even if we know there’s no update on the social scene, we just couldn’t help refreshing it,” said Zhang Boya, a 21-year-old mainland student of the University of Hong Kong.

“The only difference is that mainland students tend to surf Renren and China’s Twitter-like Weibo, while Hong Kong students like Twitter and Facebook more.”

Tony Sze, a 22-year-old who moved from Fujian province to Hong Kong at the age of 15, commented: “We may be different in some ways, but, at least, we shoulder similar heavy burdens — difficulty in landing a plum job and unable to cope with soaring property prices.”   

According to China 360: The Rise of the Urban Post-90s Generation in China, a report published in September 2013 by KPMG — one of Hong Kong’s “Big Four” auditors — the number of new college graduates on the mainland soared to almost 7 million last year. 

At present, a considerable number of new post-90s graduates have been unable to get a job of their choice, and many are electing to delay the start of their careers.

The findings were echoed by The Social Attitudes of the Youth Population in Hong Kong Report, conducted by CUHK in December 2010. 

The report revealed that the post-90s generation has become more discontented than those born in the 1970s. Nearly 40 percent of the post-90s respondents said they expected their future prospects to worsen.

“However, worries and burdens vary from person to person because our lives cannot be duplicated. So, it’s unfair to generalize, label or compare our post-90s generations,” argued Sze.

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