College freshman Joshua Wong skipped his campus tour last month to conduct an orientation of his own: leading hundreds of young people marching for greater democracy in Hong Kong.
This week, the 17-year-old churchgoer is among thousands of students boycotting classes to protest an electoral proposal from China’s Communist Party that they say doesn’t grant a genuine choice in the city’s first leadership election.
“Universal suffrage is the mission of this era and this era belongs to the young people, so let the young ones complete the mission,” says Wong, founder of student activist group Scholarism, which is seeking to maintain momentum for a broader opposition movement that has seen support fizzling. “Young people will always be the pioneers.”
Children as young as 14 have been arrested for civil disobedience as their involvement in the pro-democracy movement polarizes churches, universities and families. Though many were just toddlers when Hong Kong returned to China after more than 150 years of British colonial rule, they resent China’s increasingly assertive control of the city and greater integration with the mainland they see drying up opportunities that their parents enjoyed.
“The young people are frustrated,” said Hung Ho-fung, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who focuses on nationalism and the political economy in China and Hong Kong. “There’s not much space for them, not only politically, but to try businesses and other things in their careers.”