“贏在起跑線” is an ubiquitously used phrase amongst Hong Kong people that holds heavy significance to in relation to the local working culture. The phrase literally translates to “to win at the starting line”, which alludes to the privilege that one is already born into that eventually manifests itself into success and/or desperate (“newbie) parents investing all sorts of capital into their infant children so that they are trained early in life for success – namely career success.
To understand the phrase in its entirety, we must first dismantle and analyse it bit by bit. The word “贏” – meaning “to win” is a somewhat difficult character to write, since it is composed of 5 different sub-characters that are believed to be the recipe for success – crisis awareness; communication; time; money; optimism. It is believed that one has to possess all of these qualities in order to achieve success in life, hence the unity combines into “winning” in Chinese. 在起跑線 (starting line of a race) on the other hand is a metaphor for one’s early stage in life from infancy . “贏在起跑線” found its roots in a post-socialist, reformed China, where all sectors of industry, the educational industry included, adopted market-oriented mechanisms.
The Communist Party launched a campaign in the late 90’s, with “贏在起跑線” as the slogan, encouraging parents to invest monetarily in education, for the market possesses more resources than the government could afford in funding. It was the lack of capital the Chinese government possessed that failed the education system, which contributes to the instinctive mental correlation between money and education in the Chinese conscience. With numerous of Chinese immigrants migrating down south to Hong Kong over the years, so did the ethics of “贏在起跑線” .
It should be noted that “贏在起跑線” is not a phrase that describes an action, but rather a social phenomenon provoked by the competitiveness in today’s working culture, especially in view of globalisation. The competitiveness stems from the collective anxiety experienced by Hong Kong society that they will lose the “race”, which is life…in which is defined by success. Workers (and prospective ones) now more than ever have to be more skilled, cultured, qualified… to order to stand out from a pool of candidates to secure a job. Ensuring success in the future means micromanaging from the very beginning – The child must learn this, must speak that language, must attend this private school…etc . All these sorts of trainings could not be realised without the incessant investment of economic capital, which then branches out into social capital and culture capital, such as prep-school, extra-curricular classes, language lessons, after-class private tutoring etc.