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  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 7:52am
NewsHong Kong

Dollars - not coffee - define social status, say Hongkongers

Wages and assets are seen as the key indicators that someone is middle class, survey finds

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 7:16am

Drinking coffee and watching French movies may be Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah's idea of "middle class", but Hongkongers have different ideas, a survey shows.

Respondents singled out high incomes, owning property and having other assets such as savings or bonds as the top three indicators of being middle class.

For example, people who earn HK$30,000 to HK$60,000 a month would be perceived as being middle class by about 45.5 per cent of the interviewees.

The median monthly household income in the second quarter was only about HK$22,000, government statistics show.

"The survey is aimed at helping us understand what the public thinks of the middle class," Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre chairman Donald Li Kwok-tung said yesterday.

"The study will be useful in forming policies targeting [their needs]" and was not aimed at defining the term, he said.

In February, Tsang tried to demonstrate that he understood the concerns of middle-class residents by saying that he, too, was one of them - because he drank coffee and liked French movies.

The foundation commissioned Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies to conduct the study in July. Some 1,005 people over the age of 18 were questioned.

The survey did not mention Tsang's description of the middle class. Instead, it listed as one of its 11 proposed criteria "having taste in lifestyle" - which ended up second last in the respondents' average rating of defining indicators.

Participation in social or political issues was bottom of the list.

Some 56.7 per cent of respondents said owners of properties worth HK$2 million to HK$8 million would make the cut, while 63.7 per cent thought middle-class people would have assets of HK$500,000 to HK$6 million, excluding properties.

Alvin Lee Chi-wing, district councillor and chairman of Voice of the Middle Class, said he believed the threshold for defining the status had risen, and that the possibility of joining the ranks of the middle class had shrunk.

More than half of the interviewees harboured hopes of attaining the status one day. The aspiration was highest among people aged 19 to 28.

About 30 per cent claimed they were already middle class.

It was much easier to elevate one's social status in the 1980s and 1990s, Lee said. Now, most managerial and top-level jobs were occupied by older people.

"It's not possible now. It would be very hard [for young people today], unless their parents helped out in some way - perhaps by funding their deposit for a flat," he said.

While the higher threshold could bar entry to the middle class from below, at the other end of the spectrum, the financial secretary had no chance of being cast in this category, Lee said.

"Personal preferences and behaviour should not be counted as any indicator of being middle class. [Tsang's] salary alone would already lift him way above the middle class," he said.



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You forgot to mention the actual amount of the Chief Financial Nitwit's salary, to put the whole thing into perspective: three-hundred-and-thirty-two-thousand-two-hundred-and-sixty dollars per month.

HK$332,260, yes. Every month. John Ka-ching Tsang. That's over 4m HKD per year. Plus of course all expenses covered, like a cup of coffee with a fellow official.

Taste it for a moment. More than half a million USD per year to be the dimwitted treasurer of a city government rolling in money, and with not a single original policy idea to show for. Heck, he can't even figure out whether the government will end in deficit or surplus, year after year after year.
The very top civil servants in Hong Kong, to a man they each receive an annual salary that is more than the combined salaries of the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of France.
You noticed I didn't say they "earned" their salaries because none of them did anything remotely meritorious enough to earn the money, they merely performed what is required and oftentimes as a result of being pushed by public opinion or outcry.
When the British were here, at least they did not have the arrogance to call themselves 'Ministers' but merely 'Secretaries' of this or that trying to equate (of course its just to pull the wool over us) themselves with being 'Servants'. They even used to sign themselves as "I am Sir, your obedient servant etc etc." Have you checked your mail recently from a Government Department and see what they call you?
I'm amazed HK officials have shoes at all to walk in, as every time they open their mouths they insert their foot straight in.
We can't compare our politicians' pay to other countries, politicians in Hong Kong are there because of the solid paycheck and corruption opportunities; they're not there to help the public to start with.
If any offshore ministers or politicians were exposed to have the same level of corruption that we've seen in Hong Kong, they would've been forced to resign on the spot, while in Hong Kong, they get protected by CY and if worst comes to worst, they donate a week of their pay and it's all good.
My ANNUAL salary is 64% of John Tsang's MONTHLY salary. If he is middle class, what does that make me? What's one level below a church mouse?
High salary for the civil servants seems have maxed out of its original intentions for attracting the brightest and preventing corruption. It is now attracting the not so bright and the not so clean. Is the high pay scale actually obstructing the right individuals by the wrong ones who are fully occuping the government? The injustice plays up to the max instead: citizens paying so much to get such a messy place to be.
Out of a population of 7 million plus, there must be some bright people in Hong Kong. With ICAC as a corruption watchdog, why we still need to pay so much to the officials? In civic matters which are government's business, money can’t buy good help anymore for civic work in Hong Kong.
WOW! considering Geithner and Bernanke both make < $200k USD/annum. Amazing.


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