No coffee, no French movies – just a paid-off mortgage

Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang was destined to go down in history – in his own little way – as crafter of some of the more mediocre, indeed pointless, budgets in the city’s modern times. Year after year, he predicted deficits, booked and stashed away embarrassing surpluses, and handed out absurd subsidies in a lame attempt to divert our attention and make everyone happy. And he did it with that stomach-churning smugness that only British-trained bureaucrats can manage.

But then, grasping for a shred of sympathy from an ungrateful public one day, he pronounced himself middle class ‘just like you’, on the grounds that he drank coffee and watched interminable black-and-white French movies in which no-one says anything. And a meme was born. The Big Lychee’s bourgeoisie was defined in terms of aspirational symbolism we could all relate to (though some people took it literally and disputed the idea). With a sprawling Gini coefficient, evaporating mid-range income brackets, and a society where everyone seems rich compared with the poor and everyone seems poor compared with the rich, it was good to have some sort of benchmark.

Now the Bauhinia Foundation, a think-tank dedicated to propagating the tycoon-bureaucrat agenda embraced by Tsang, proposes a more quantifiable approach, based on a public opinion survey. It’s pretty predictable: to be ‘middle class’, you should own a property, earn a decent five-figure salary and have at least a million (Hong Kong) dollars invested. The Foundation’s director, by his own admission, doesn’t see much purpose in the exercise, but it’s a godsend to the press, who can ask such luminaries as the leader of something called Voice of the Middle Class for their valuable and fascinating opinions.

But what about the people who should be middle class but, by this definition, aren’t? People who have the education, intelligence, ambition and earning power, but who lack the material wealth owing to some circumstance beyond their control, such as (to pluck an example at random) atrocious government policies? The average HK$27,000-a-month type who must devote 44% of his spending to housing, or the couples who can’t afford to have children? These are the mainstream middle-income people who, unlike the lucky (and probably older) ones who have already paid off their mortgages and have been able to save, are still working for the property tycoons – who, as it happens, fund the Bauhinia Foundation.

Conveniently, the survey found that the Hong Kong public didn’t think culture, taste, connections and political/social awareness play much of a role in defining ‘middle class’. It is true that plenty of working-class people in Hong Kong – ‘grassroots’ to use the official euphemism – are active in the pro-democracy cause. But the movement is, at its heart, at one with coffee and French cinema. Many of the ‘middle class’, as defined by political opposition to Hong Kong’s social and economic structure, are probably people who are denied the right to be ‘middle class’, as defined by property ownership and savings, because of the cartel-running tycoons who shoe-shine Beijing so thoroughly. The Bauhinia Foundation would really rather not go there.

Click to see a French black-and-white movie - Jacqueline Taieb singing ‘Qu’est-ce qu’on se marre a la fac de lettres?’


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11 Responses to No coffee, no French movies – just a paid-off mortgage

  1. Well, they miss the point. It’s never about class. it’s about the class you serve. And sociology is just the surface in the motivation of Man.

    Hong Kong people are Philistines (Bela heri). That cuts right across considerations of class and explains just about all the blow you, I’m all right Jack, knock it down and build a car park, who are you to complain, stuff you I’m rich, do you know what my property is worth now ISM of Hong Kong.

    A Philistine person is the man or woman who is smugly narrow of mind and of conventional morality whose materialistic views and tastes indicate an indifference toward cultural and æsthetic values.

    It’s terrible being right all the time.

    PS Rather rich the SCMP banging on about diabetes when their owner is the Sugar King of Asia, if not of the world.. A bit like when they forgot he owns the biggest palm oil company in the world when slashing and burning on Sumatra was causing killer smog in Singapore.

    That SCMP spell checker:

    palm oil…sugar…massacre…revolution…democracy…

    Refer article to Wang Xiangwei for approval.

  2. Joe Blow says:

    A better name for the local ‘middle class’ would be petit bourgeoisie. All those slightly desperate crawlers who know they can never make into the big league and who have no choice but to fake it. They may drive a BMW but still don’t know how to use a knife and a fork.

    Lay off French movies: it’s the only way to watch porn and tell your wife you are appreciating art.

  3. gweiloeye says:

    HK definition of “taste” – a gigantic gold painted chandelier with 20 bulbs and fake crystals hanging in a 400 square foot apartment.
    What is it with the light fixtures in this place?

  4. maugrim says:

    Hmmm, middle class? If you own an Alphard with a driver, you probably aren’t middle class. Let me think.
    You live in or aspire to live in a place named La Pudenda or similar, you own a German made car, your kids have English names like Sherwood, your kids have C.Vs that heavily feature foreign family friends, there is a bottle of wine in a drawer somewhere within the flat, you feel Pizza Hut is declasse and prefer Pizza Express, you have travelled at least once to Europe on a HK package tour, you hate your job but still work 18 hours a day in the hope that one day you will be the boss, you own more than one property that you may move back and forth to so as to secure a good school, your domestic helper has her own room with a bed, you no longer spit bones onto the tablecloth at dinner.

  5. Jeff says:

    I am, proudly: New Lower Class. And I make sure the government knows it, as half their policies have created this class.

    Always place your self in the lowest class possible, or make tons of cash. Middle class is a terrible place to be.

  6. Real (Middle Class) Tax Payer says:

    Middle class means you still don’t know if it’s pronounced alp – hard or al – phard.

    BTW : which is it ?

  7. gweiloeye says:

    R(MC)TP – I think it’s actually pronounced TRY-hard.

  8. PCC says:

    So if one plays golf, is that the leisure class?

  9. ( . ) ( . ) says:

    No, that would be the “I wish I had class”.

  10. Real (Middle Class) Tax Payer says:

    @ gweiloeye

    This sounds like the old joke about the phases of virility

    1. Hard (no need to try)
    2. Try hard
    3. Try hardly
    4. Hardly try

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