Becoming Radical’ in the Academy: Trajectories of Civic Engagement for Hong Kong Youth

Kerry J Kennedy, Joseph Kui Foon Chow


This article compares the Hong Kong students’ attitudes towards democracy in two cohorts: 1999 and 2009. Data were drawn from the IEA Civic Education Study carried out by the International Association of Educational Assessment in 1999, and a follow-up study ten years later. The students of 1999 cohort were educated largely in the final stages of British colonialism while the 2009 cohort received their education during the initial years of Chinese sovereignty. For both cohorts of students there has been limited experience of democratic processes and institutions but public contestation of democracy has always been a feature of the political landscape. The 2009 cohort in this study are of particular interest. They were fifteen years old at the time of responding to the survey but are now somewhere between eighteen and nineteen years old. It can be assumed that many of them were involved in the recent “Umbrella Movement” protests in late 2014.

The Rasch model was chosen to explore changes over time in attitudes towards democracy.   With this methodology, change is reflected in any movement of items along the latent trait. Shifts were observed toward more support for democratic values by the 2009 cohort with an emphasis on what was perceived as good for democracy as well as an increased consensus about what can harm democracy. The results of this study, therefore, start to shed light on Hong Kong students’ commitment to democracy demonstrated so clearly in the “Umbrella Movement” in 2014. This commitment appears to begin in early adolescence as shown in this study, and grow as the students reach maturity. Chinese sovereignty has not extinguished Hong Kong youth’s democratic commitment.


Civic engagement, Hong Kong, higher education, democracy

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