“Keyboard fighters”

Young people in Macau are not as distanced from reality as they seem. There are several factors that explain how different they compared to youngsters in Hong Kong, but the future will bring a more intervening generation.

MB April 2020 Special Report | Youngsters living on a keyboard

Young people in Macau live unaware of the reality around them, they only think about cell phones and shopping on Taobao – this is mostly a common place, surely, but not everyone here thinks so.

Leung Kai Yin, a current affairs commentator, with many years of research in this field under his belt, explains to Macau Business that “They are only apparently uninterested in current affairs. But, based on my observation, some young people very actively discuss local news on Facebook or other internet platforms and social media.”

Last year, Mr Leung saw some discussion topics on Facebook related to Hong Kong social movements; according to him “Most likely they support the Hong Kong young people to fight for their rights.” He personally knows of several young people who went to Hong Kong and joined some demonstrations. “Therefore, we cannot say that Macau’s new generation is completely unfazed by current affairs.”

The problem is “the lack of a suitable environment for them.” As Leung Kai Yin explains to Macau Business, the mainstream media significantly emphasizes a “harmonious society.”

Plus, as many parents teach their children that being a civil servant is a good option for their future, the prerequisite to be a civil servant is not to have any “bad record”, which can be caused by such behaviors as engaging in social protests or criticizing the government… “Considering the education they receive from their families, Macau youngsters receive a clear message: civil engagement is a taboo.”

In addition to this determining factor, in the opinion of our interviewee, there is another: the parents’ mindset “is very conservative. They came to Macau, just to have better life, but not a democratic one. They came to Macau to ensure their children receive a better education.”

But, as their children are born in Macau “they have more opportunities to receive a higher education and consequently embrace different values from the values their parents have. Some of those youngsters are not satisfied with the Macanese society, but they lack the organization skills needed to coordinate themselves and form a social force. The internet has therefore become an ideal platform, where they express their thoughts and feelings. They are keyboard fighters”, summarizes the current affairs commentator.

And it is precisely this lack of organization and protection that marks the structural difference between Macanese youngsters and the Hong Kong youth. “Professional organizations will protect their members. It is very easy to find young professionals among those who participated in the recent civil unrest in Hong Kong, such as teachers, social workers, nurses, medical doctors, etc.”

The education that Hong Kong families give to the new generation “is quite different from the education received by Macanese youngsters, because parents were also born in Hong Kong, so they love ‘harmony’ as well as a ‘fair’ and ‘just’ love. Hong Kong adults teach their children to have higher-standard ethics.”

Although he was interviewed by Macau Business as a commentator on current affairs, Leung Kai Yin is also a researcher at the Macau Polytechnic Institute. He said: “A few years ago, I conducted a study aimed at finding out which values are considered important by Macanese youngsters. My research showed that ‘respect’ is the most important value for them. On the other hand, the Hong Kong research showed that their youth cared more about ‘fairness’. So, this is how we realize there is a clear distinction between Hong Kong and Macau.”

The future is unpredictable, and “it is very hard to predict whether Macanese youngsters will hone their organization skills or will still play the keyboard fighter role”, but Leung is not pessimistic. He anticipates that “the values which the future young generation will have at heart will change, because the next generations will have more and better access to higher education, and will adopt more Western values.” Moreover, when they become parents, “they will teach their children to be more progressive. Young people will not be satisfied with ‘old-style’ organizations. Values will be essential in shaping the generations to come.”

“The most important value [for Macau young people] is ‘respect’. On the other hand, the Hong Kong research findings showed that ‘fair’ is more important than ‘respect’ – Leung Kai Yin

‘SoMoLo’ activism

The last time Macau’s youth took to the streets to protest was in May 2017.

At least a thousand people, according to police figures, marched through some of the city’s main streets criticizing the MSAR’s controversial RMB 100 million (around MOP 123M) donation to Jinan University.

Macanese youngsters not only asked for the withdrawal of the donation, but also for the resignation of Chief Executive Chui Sai On over the scandal.

Several commentators believed this activism was motivated by a dissatisfaction that went far beyond the donation, that is, the youth of Macau was protesting against the government as a whole, in an attempt to get them to listen to their needs and demands.

Police claimed that the march constituted an “illegal demonstration.”

This case has since gained symbolic value, to the point that two Chinese scientists from Jinan University and Sun Iat Sen University decided to study it.

Zhongxuan Lin and Yupei Zhao noted that news on the donation had “not [been] reported by traditional media, but it had been exposed by the SoMoLo [‘So’ (social), ‘Mo’ (mobile) and ‘Lo’ (local)]”. Because of this SoMoLo journalism style, Macau netizens began to accuse Chief Executive Mr Chui of ‘abusing’ his positions, and of a ‘notorious’ lack of transparency. SoMoLo journalism then led to SoMoLo activism: some SoMoLo media launched offline campaigns to collect signatures to urge Mr Chui to resign over the donation scandal, while other SoMoLo media created a Facebook page dedicated to the organization of a protest.”