The "Humiliation Seat" cushion. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia
The "Humiliation Seat" cushion. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia

In Hong Kong, local residents usually rush to the Lunar New Year fairs held across the city to buy flowers, snacks and even special red underwear – the colour for celebration and fortune in Chinese culture.

Some creative young minds, on the other hand, use the occasion to vent their anger on social issues by designing and selling products themed on the source of their ire.

This year, one theme stood out like a tall poppy from the rest at the most popular of the city’s fairs in Victoria Park – mocking the older generation – in this case people aged in their fifties or above.

Public transport services – the metro MTR and buses – in the city reserve “priority seats” for people in need, including pregnant women, mothers with young children and the elderly.

The initiative was “part of our continuing effort to urge passengers to offer seats to those in need,” said Jeny Yeung, then a general manager of the MTR, when the current design was rolled out in 2010.

Offering seats to people in need and the elderly also follows the traditional Chinese belief that urges people to respect the elderly.

In reality, however, some passengers – usually people in their twenties – ignore this, which has led to bus rage and tit-for-tat mobile videos that are then posted on social media.

A war of words usually ensues between netizens of various age groups.

On Lunar New Year’s eve, Hong Kong people witnessed this phenomenon. A middle-aged man took a video of two young people sitting in the priority seats on a bus as an elderly woman was seated behind them; and the pair took footage of him as revenge for embarassing them (see the videos below).

So it was no surprise to see a stall at the Lunar New Year fair in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, quickly gain popularity.

It was selling a red cushion designed with images of the “priority seats” symbols commuters see on the MTR.

They called the cushion – “humiliation seat,” expressing the feeling of young people who are judged on the Internet.

The "Humiliation Seat" cushion. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia
The “Humiliation Seat” cushion. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia

But this clever product also had a political element. How is this possible?

Young people have become increasingly politically active and aware since the 2012 furore of introducing national education classes that many saw as an effort to brainwash students because the company responsible for producing the teaching material was biased towards the central government’s policies.

These young people realized that the elderly are also among many obstacles on the rocky road to full democracy.

In the Legislative Council election last year, Hong Kong people saw the highest turnout of voters since 1997 – 2.2 million – when Britain handed the sovereignty of Hong Kong back to China.

Young people cheered for the high turnout, but were also upset by the fact that many of the older generation voted for the pro-Beijing candidates. A Facebook page hkelderlymemes, which started right after the election, became trendy for mocking this phenomenon.

"I don't know the candidates' platforms. I vote for them because I can get biscuits from them“ Photo: facebook/@hkelderlymemes
“I don’t know the candidates’ platforms. I vote for them because I can get biscuits from them“ Photo: facebook/@hkelderlymemes

(And for the uninitiated memes are an idea behavor or style expressed as an image, video, piece of text, which is typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.)

One important message when celebrating Lunar New Year is unity. But obviously, the divide between young and old still remains strong in Hong Kong.