Many of the leaders of Hong Kong's protests are millennials—here's why they're taking action

A protester throws an egg at the police headquarters during a demonstrations in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, June 21, 2019. Hong Kong protesters, including student groups, resumed demonstrations in the city center Friday to demand Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down. Photographer: Eduardo Leal/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The city of Hong Kong has been roiled by protests this summer. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have occupied the city's streets, government buildings and even the main airport. All departing flights were canceled on Monday, putting travel at a standstill.

Young people are at the forefront of Hong Kong's protest movement. Many of the most prominent opposition leaders are still in their 20s, but they're demanding big changes that could alter the future of their entire generation.

These are the issues they're calling attention to: 


Hong Kong's protests were sparked in June by a proposed bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China. Opponents of the bill feared it was a sign of the Communist Party's growing influence over Hong Kong, which is designated as a Special Administrative Region of China that operates largely independently.

Although Hong Kong's government suspended the bill in response to the widespread backlash, the protests have continued. Demonstrators have harnessed the momentum to advocate for greater democratic freedoms overall.

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, both 22, and Nathan Law, 26, are three of the leaders of Demosisto, a pro-democracy youth activist group in Hong Kong that has been on the front lines of the protests. Wong and Law were among several people sentenced to jail in 2017 for their role in the Umbrella Movement, another wave of pro-democracy protests in 2014 led in large part by college students. But they haven't let their previous run-ins with the law stop them from supporting this summer's protests.

"What kind of young people does Hong Kong produce? Smart, efficient, attentive and freedom-loving," Wong tweeted after protesters stormed the city's legislative headquarters. "I am proud of them."


Economic inequality

Hong Kong is known as one of the world's major economic hubs, but it's also home to extreme inequality. The gap between the rich and the poor is staggering: According to the latest census report, the wealthiest 10% of households earn 44 times more than the poorest 10%.

Housing prices are also some of the highest in the world, surpassing even New York and London. To save money, many residents have opted to live in cramped, dorm-style rooms with bunk beds and shared bathrooms, known as "coffin homes."

Half of the protesters identify as middle class, according to a field survey conducted by local universities. But some experts say that the protests will ultimately hurt Hong Kong's economy overall, if companies decide to relocate due to the unrest.

Hong Kong's identity

Hong Kong's transition from a British colony to part of mainland China was seen as a massive step for the future of the city. But many of those protesting today weren't even born yet when Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, and they now worry for the loss of the city's autonomy at the hands of the Communist Party.

"Police and Chinese mob are ruling Hong Kong," tweeted Law. "When the Chinese mobs are attacking the citizens, no law enforcements are there." At times during the demonstrations police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of protesters. 


Many young residents maintain a strong sense of identity with Hong Kong over China: 9% of Hong Kong residents ages 18 to 29 say they're proud to be a Chinese citizen, while 38% of those over 50 feel the same way, according to a survey by Hong Kong University.

The actions of Hong Kong's youth mirror millennials around the world, who are increasingly standing up against the status quo and demanding more radical political change.

"If there is just one takeaway for the world: Events in Hong Kong are about so much more than the bill, more than Lam, more even than democracy," tweeted Wong. "They all matter of course. But in the end it is about the future of Hong Kong beyond 2047, a future that belongs to our generation." In 2047 the current political arrangement between Hong Kong and China will expire, opening up the possibility for a completely new system to take its place.


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