What to call those people born in the eighties and after

Last week, I witnessed the speedy spread of the Chinese term ‘paat3 sap6 hau6’ in the Chinese media. The term was first used with a suffix, such as ‘generation’, people’, and ‘teenagers’. Then, the suffix disappeared and quotation marks were added to the term; then the quotation marks disappeared. And by Friday, everyone was saying and writing paat3 sap6 hau6’ as if we had been using it for years.

All this happened within a week, amidst the Express Rail saga. This shows how rapidly a word can spread, when the social conditions are right.

At first, I thought it was a new term coined by Hong Kong people. But last Sunday, an article in Ming Pao reminded us that the term had been used in the Mainland for almost two years. But then it has a different connotation when used in China. The underlying message is that this generation of people, because they were born in the decade when China began to become richer and richer, had never experienced poverty. As a result, they are unable to cope with adversity and pressure. If my understanding is right, when the term is used in Hong Kong, it refers to a generation of people (born in the eighties and beyond) who are frustrated with many aspects of society. They have their own stance on many social issues, and they can be idealistic as well as radical.

Of course, I am also very much interested in how the term is expressed in English. A literal translation, such as ‘post-80s’, could be confusing, since it could also mean the years since the eighties.

In today’s Ming Pao, a translation of its previous editorial on the issue officially uses the term ‘post-80’s’ in the headline. An English-speaking visitor to Hong Kong would get the wrong meaning, but a local reader would have no trouble decoding it.

So, the interesting question is whether the English term ‘post-80’s’ will spread in Hong Kong. If it does, and if we can accept the existence of ‘Hong Kong English’, then it will stand and stay with us.

I searched the term in SCMP just now. It is not in the SCMP yet. I searched it again in The Standard; it uses the expression “a group of young people born in the 1980s”, and the phrase “the post-1980 generation”.

What will happen to the term in English in the next couple of weeks? This is now a very interesting moment.

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