“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
“Share for good luck.”
With the rise of mobile messaging applications over the past few years, older generations of Hongkongers have discovered a new way of communicating with younger family members. Many frequently send good wishes, words of wisdom and even random trivia – printed in colourful but outdated fonts – overlaid on top of simple images of flowers or religious symbols.
Known as “elder graphics,” the messages have become popular not only in Hong Kong, but also Taiwan and mainland China.
While their origins are unclear, media reports have suggested that they were the product of computer lessons for adults and seniors, which taught the use of simple software. Older people with eyesight problems may also find emojis – which are more popular among young people – too small to use.
Some of them function like chain e-mails from the early days of the internet, often asking recipients to share the message infinitely “if they agree” or “for good luck.”
As such, on occasions such as Lunar New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival, people may find their mobile phones flooded with images, using up large amounts of data allowance.
In response, some young people have transformed elder graphics into a form of satire. Graphics that have gone viral on local internet forum Golden include pointless messages, such as “the death rate from drinking water is 100 per cent,” or “in Africa, every 60 seconds, one minute passes.”
However, in Hong Kong, where there has been a generational shift in values and opinions, satire is largely political.
Matthew, a first year university student, told HKFP he started following political affairs in 2012, after the government attempted to force a controversial national education syllabus in schools across Hong Kong.
In March 2016, he created his first elder graphic image using an application on his mobile phone.
That month, pro-establishment lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan had shocked her colleagues after misspeaking at a Legislative Council session while discussing a string of 20 suicides by Hong Kong students in the previous year. “Actually, with student suicides, even one case is too few,” she said, before correcting herself and apologising.
Matthew’s reply read: “20 students. Even one is too much. Dear government, when will you stop?”
As with traditional elder graphics, the words were overlaid on top of an image of the Buddha, and asked recipients to “share if they agree.”
He soon created the satirical Facebook page Hong Kong Elder Graphics Association, which now has 18,000 followers. As the creator behind most of the 600 graphics posted on the page, he has satirised every political event ranging from Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law to disqualify two pro-independence lawmakers, to the “Lead Water” scandal where supplies at housing estates were found to contain the heavy metal.
During last year’s Legislative Council elections, a Stand News blogger also created a series of elder graphics, aiming to persuade older, pro-establishment family members to cast their votes for the opposition camp.
Across the strait in Taiwan, internet users have recently made elder graphics in support of legalising same-sex marriage, a move which is currently being debated in parliament.
Matthew says that his older relatives read his satirical memes, and are sometimes able to better understand his political views through them. But mostly, they are ambivalent towards the images: “Yeah they see them, but all they do is laugh.”
“But my internet friends have all started calling me ‘elder’,” he joked.