Thursday, 5 September 2013

John Tsang, Man of the People (Not)

Does Hong Kong's Financial Secretary know who are the middle class?
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah was ridiculed back in February when he claimed that middle class people like to drink coffee and watch French movies. He also proclaimed he was part of this socio-economic group.

A recent survey by the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre has shown that high incomes, owning property and having other assets, such as savings or bonds are the top indicators of being middle class.

Some 45.5 percent of interviewees say people who earn HK$30,000 to HK$60,000 ($3,868-$7,736) a month are considered middle class, while 25 percent thought the median income of the middle class was about HK$22,000.

"The survey is aimed at helping us understand what the public thinks of the middle class," said Donald Li Kwok-tung, chairman of the Bauhinia Research Foundation. "The study will be useful in forming policies targeting [their needs]" and was not aimed at defining the term," he said.

The foundation commissioned Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies to conduct the survey of 1,005 people in July. Other results included 56.7 percent saying people who owned properties worth HK$2 million to HK$8 million were middle class, while 63.7 percent thought those with assets of HK$500,000 to HK$6 million excluding properties made the cut.

While these results seem reasonable, surveying 1,000 is barely a drop in the bucket for a city of over 7 million people. And we wonder who was interviewed and what their salaries are.

Nevertheless, Alvin Lee Chi-wing, district councillor and chairman of Voice of the Middle Class noted the threshold for defining middle class had risen and joining it was getting harder. He said that it was much easier to rise in status in the 1980s and 1990s. But now most top-level jobs are 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.

As for Tsang, he has no right to claim he is in this category, Lee says. "Personal preferences and behaviour should not be counted as any indicator of being middle class. [Tsang's] salary alone would lift him way above the middle class," Lee said.


  1. In theory, I can see where John Tsang is coming from re his French films and coffee remarks -- in that there is a school of thought that defines class by tastes rather than income level. But in a place like Hong Kong, where there is such a huge wealth disparity, it really did/does beggar belief when he chose to align himself with middle class -- and by extension middle income -- folks based on his liking of French films and coffee.

  2. HI YTSL

    I wonder which kinds of French films and coffee he's talking about! Perhaps that would give us a better idea of what kind of "middle class" he's referring to!

  3. Hi again --

    I'm going to guess some kind of easy-to-digest French films (rather than, say, anything by Gaspar Noe) and Starbucks -- as opposed to, say, cha chaan teng -- coffee... ;b

  4. Hi YTSL -- well I was going to say does he drink McDonald's coffee or illy? As for French films, you're more of an expert than I am!!!