New waves of protest have spread across Hong Kong after China voted in late May to move forward with drafting new national security legislation aimed at undermining “secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference” in the city.
While China claims that the new laws would strengthen the “one country, two systems” policy that gives Hong Kong some autonomy from the mainland and that they should be viewed as “antivirus software” to protect the city from “destructive forces,” critics say that these laws will further degrade Hong Kong’s freedoms and possibly lead to a police state where criticism of Beijing is strictly prohibited.
In a further step to punish dissent in Hong Kong, lawmakers on June 4 made it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem, with penalties including fines of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,450) or three years of imprisonment.
In the wake of what some fear is Beijing’s tightening grip over the city, some residents, colloquially known as Hong Kongers, see a bleak future. Many feel that their freedoms are at risk and doubt whether future generations of Hong Kongers will be able to disagree with policies imposed by the mainland without fears of reprisal.
Some desire to leave Hong Kong altogether, while others say that even if they stay, they don’t want to have children.
“Our freedom and democracy have been quietly deteriorating for more than two decades, and Hong Kong is slowly turning into China,” said Billy Wong, a Hong Kong civil servant, in response to the recent developments. “This is not a healthy society for a child to grow up in.”
Although many Hong Kongers support resisting Chinese aggression, others have more complicated views.
While data from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Institute, an independent research center, showed that only 19.7% of respondents trusted the central government in Beijing in mid-to-late February, down from nearly 40% two years earlier, as of December 2019 only 17% said Hong Kong should be fully independent from China.
As for the protests, which have been an intermittent feature of life in Hong Kong for years, 59% reported in December that they support them.
Although most Hong Kongers seem to be in favor of exercising more caution when dealing with China, some argue that mass relocating or not having children are poor choices, especially since so many young people remain devoted to fighting for their city’s rights.
“I really want to give all I have to Hong Kong,” said 13-year-old James, a student at an elite school in December 2019. “When you pursue freedom, sacrifices are unavoidable. We are halfway into the gate of hell. We’ve put our future and career on a line, but it is worth it.”
Whether citizens end up leaving or not, a clear majority are pessimistic about the future of the city.
Just under 70% of respondents said they were not confident in Hong Kong’s future in February, the latest set of data available from the institute’s website, which does not take into account opinions on China’s latest moves.
In response to new developments, some countries in the West, like the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have discussed the possibility of taking in Hong Kong residents who now wish to leave.
The UK is especially attractive for some, especially since as part of the 1997 handover from British colonial rule, some 3.4 million Hong Kongers were given British passports under the British National Overseas (BNO) designation.
There are a host of other factors that make raising a family in Hong Kong a difficult prospect.
In 2014, data from the Hong Kong Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre indicated that it would cost the average family over US$700,000 to raise one child in the city, an amount spanning the time of their birth to their graduation from college.
By comparison, US government calculations in 2015 estimated that the average cost of raising a child in America was US$233,610.
Others argue that a high-stakes educational system puts an enormous amount of pressure on young Hong Kongers to outperform their peers, leading to little free time and high stress levels.
But according to data from the World Bank, fertility rates in the city have been low for years.
In 2018, the latest year for which data is available, the fertility rate was 1.072 births per woman. That’s lower than the rate in mainland China, where the government infamously imposed a one-child policy on parents from the late 1970s to 2015.
Whether or not Beijing’s tactics will spark further disenchantment with raising families in Hong Kong will become evident over the coming years. In the meantime, it’s apparent that many continue to feel uncertain about the future of the city.
“In Hong Kong, my kids would grow up with a huge dilemma. They would love their city and want to change it for the better with a passion. Yet, at the same time they would grow up without hope and a feeling of powerlessness,” said Ann Cheung, a retired teacher who eventually moved to Australia with her family.
“We really don’t want our kids to grow up under Chinese rule,” she added.
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