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Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

  • Daniel Schearf

Hong Kong's student-led democracy protests highlight a generation gap in the Chinese territory.

Of the tens of thousands pouring into its city center since late September, most are students boycotting classes to oppose Beijing's influence over the choice of candidates for the territory's first direct leadership election in 2017.

Although some older supporters have been participating in the demonstration, others favor stability over democracy.

The idealistic and articulate youth say the older generation worries about the present, while they are fighting for Hong Kong’s future.

Many protesters, such as Clara Thang, say they cannot discuss the movement with their disapproving parents.

"We need communication," Thang said, and then added that her own father is unwilling to discuss their differing positions, a gap magnified when the government has refused to meet with student representatives. At the last minute, officials cancelled talks that had been planned for Friday.

"If the government is not willing to talk, just like my father is not willing to talk, and [its officials are] just trying to push everything, their belief, to you, then how can there really be communication?" Thang wondered. "It's just impossible."

Rift of Age, Experience

A source of tension is the noticeable age difference between the demonstrators and those opposing their occupation of Hong Kong streets.

A middle-aged woman tearing down protest posters at a subway station complained bitterly after student demonstrators confronted her.

"I just don't like them, that's all," said the woman, who refused to give her name. "There's no democracy here. They are the boss now."

But some older members of Hong Kong's working class support the protest and its demands for constitutional reform, as well as the call for the Beijing-approved chief executive to step down.

One man, identifying himself as Joe, brought his young daughter to join the demonstration.

"It's a kind of civic education to let them know maybe our generation ... cannot fight for democracy, but the hope is on them," he said.

Volunteers are building a makeshift study center for the student protesters, some of whom have camped here for days. They face exams, and their parents worry poor results could affect their future.

But the young people gathered here say Hong Kong's freedom is at stake, and they’re willing to make sacrifices.

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