Umbrella Generation: Hong Kong's despairing youth split with old guard

Umbrella Generation: Hong Kong's despairing youth split with old guard

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's unprecedented student-led democracy rallies have highlighted a stark divide between a disenfranchised younger generation who say they have little to lose, and an older guard who favour pragmatism over protest.

Throughout the past week the legions of predominantly youthful demonstrators camped out on the city's streets have focused their energies on the single galvanising issue that sparked the mass sit-ins - universal suffrage.

Dubbed the Umbrella Revolution after umbrellas were used to protect from pepper spray and tear gas, protesters say Hong Kongers should be allowed to both nominate and choose their next leader in 2017.

Beijing insists only candidates vetted by a loyalist committee will be able to stand for election.

But the battle for full democracy in the former British colony is only part of why so many of the financial hub's youngsters have taken a leading role in what has become the greatest challenge to China's hold over the territory since its 1997 handover.

The protests are taking place against a backdrop of rising inequality and soaring living costs which leave many young people with little prospect of renting, let alone buying, their own homes.

Increased competition with wealthy mainlanders, anger over the cosy relationship between the government and Hong Kong's financial elite and a sense of alienation from the ruling authorities have left the younger generation deeply uneasy about what awaits them in adulthood.

Shadow Wu, a 16-year-old secondary school student, believes the government simply does not care about what awaits its younger generation.

"The government now doesn't listen to our concerns, it's a fake government that doesn't respond to the needs of the people," she fumes.

But Wu, who has spent the last nine days camped out with two teenage friends, admits her grandparents believe her protest is a "waste of time".

"My grandmother and grandfather had really hard lives, so they think we're silly and that we should be happy to have comfortable lives," she says.

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