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

By Carmin Chappell

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 surveyconducted 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.

This article first appeared on CNBC and is republished with its permission.

Related Content

West African consumer sentiment drops sharply as COVID-19 crisis deepens

Global data analytics company; Nielsen, says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp drop in consumer sentiment in West Africa in the second quarter of the year. Ged Nooy, Managing Director at Nielsen Nigeria joins CNBC Africa for more.

AfDB forecasts Africa’s growth in 2021

Updated forecasts from the African Development Bank show that Africa’s growth is expected to rebound to 3 per cent by 2021 from a 3.4 per cent contraction in 2020 in the worst-case-scenario. Hanan Morsy, Director for Macroeconomic Forecasting and Research at the AfDB joins CNBC Africa for more.

Uganda Securities Exchange CEO on how COVID-19 is impacting the bourse

The economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had wide severe impact on financial markets not leaving behind stocks, bond and commodity markets. Uganda Securities Exchange CEO, Paul Bwiso joins CNBC Africa for more.

COVID-19: How the pandemic is accelerating the digitalization of healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruptions in healthcare provision, highlighting the need to adopt and invest in digitalization. Dr. Wanjeri Millicent Loice, Director and Content Manager, Toto Health Kenya joins CNBC Africa for more.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

More from CNBC Africa

Africa urged to test more as coronavirus cases exceed 500,000

The African Union Commission said on Thursday it had launched a consortium for vaccine clinical trials to be headed by the Africa CDC, which aimed to secure more than 10 late stage vaccine clinical trials as early as possible.

Malawi’s new female cabinet ministers vow to push for jobs for women

Women now hold 39% of the ministerial and deputy minister roles in the cabinet appointed by Chakwera, 65, who unseated Peter Mutharika in a re-run presidential election last month, which compared to about 20% in the previous government.

Dow, S&P 500 end lower on fears over surging virus cases but Nasdaq hits record high

he Nasdaq hit another record high, however, helped by gains in (AMZN.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Apple Inc (AAPL.O).

Eskom goes after contractors over R4bn Kusile over-payment

One of the power stations that were meant to be the saviour of South Africa’s power supply is causing controversy, even before it’s in full working order. In an explosive letter, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan named contractors that he says Eskom over-paid by R4 billion, in the construction of Kusile power station. Sikonathi Mantshantsha, National Spokesperson of Eskom joins CNBC Africa for more

Partner Content

Maktech’s Godwin Makyao: Now Is A Time of Entrepreneurial Opportunity in East Africa

As an executive decision-maker in both the telecommunications and tourism industries, Godwin Makyao could not have experienced a more diverse set of...

Sanlam launches urgent job-preservation initiative in response to COVID-19

Sanlam Investments is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through large-scale support of the recovery of South African companies, from small enterprises to...

Trending Now

Nigeria’s excess crude account held $72.41 million as of July 7: finance minister

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s excess crude account held $72.41 million as of July 7, the country’s finance minister said on Thursday.

Nigeria’s President Buhari to sign revised 2020 budget into law on Friday -presidency

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari will on Friday sign into law a 10.8 trillion naira ($28.38 billion) revised 2020 budget...

South Africa’s manufacturing output falls 49.4% year on year in April

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s manufacturing output fell 49.4% year on year in April during a nationwide lockdown, after contracting by a...

South African court dismisses appeal against SAA layoff ruling

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African court on Thursday dismissed an appeal by administrators in charge of South African Airways (SAA) against...
- Advertisement -