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Armchair Generals (q/armchair-generals)Is there a rescue to Hong Kong?
Article translated from Wechat group “Da Lang Tao Sha”
Author: Zhao Haoyang
Because of my prior study experience in Hong Kong, I have written many articles about Hong Kong to eliminate our prejudice against Hong Kong youth. I have said more than once that I have met many Hong Kong youths. They are really not bad people. They are just stupid.
This is definitely a description from me without any emotional prejudice. If you don’t like the simple word ‘stupid’, you can use the word “infant” or “naive”, but it is more troublesome and I don’t have any discrimination.
When I was climbing Sunset Peak to see the sunset, I met a Hong Kong friend who was an alumni. He probably joined some messy organizations like “The Islander First”, which is slightly better than the extreme Hong Kong independence movement who are usually more hostile towards Mainlanders. His general position was that how good would it be if Hong Kong and Mainland could only be concern with themselves and leave each other alone. He thought that Hong Kong was in decline because the Mainland government was in charge…
I asked him, ‘why do you miss the British colonial era, even marching behind the British flag?’
He said that because of democracy, one person, one vote, now Hong Kong had so many problems because it was not democratic.
I asked him, did you choose the Governor in the British colonial era?
He was stunned with the “quation mark face” expression.
I found out that he really didn’t understand, so I told him that when the British ruled, the Governor was directly appointed by the noble Queen, and you had no right to vote for a dime. Even within the government civil service rank, Hong Kong people were behind the Indians and were third-class citizens. In order to fight for their own rights and oppose colonial oppression, the Hong Kong people carried out a series of protest movements in the 1960s. As a result, your British daddy used the Indian military and police to suppress it. He shot the people of Hong Kong with guns biubiubiu.
To tell the truth, at that time, he looked annoyed, unbelieving, remorseful, shamed, embarrassed, I can savour that moment for a lifetime.
The second story, during the Sunflower student movement in Taiwan, the students of our school had a variety of activities to support that idiotic student movement.
Then, there was a meeting, a director said that every member of the student union must express his/her support for the Sunflower movement. He talked with utmost righteousness. Anybody who did not comply would not have met the ideals of the student union. The implication was to target several mainland students including me. We all thought that the Sunflower movement had nothing to do with us. Us having to express opinion was stupid.
At that time, a mainland student immediately opposed it, saying that they had no right to force anybody’s opinion. He didn’t support the Sunflower movement, and they could expel him if they had the guts.
The Taiwan students also raised their voice by eight pitches, ‘it is a principle that we are a student organization that must support fellow students.’
I told everyone to calm down. I said that we agreed what you believed in principle and the spirit of the student union shoule be respected because that was what we promoted in Mainland, too, democracy and freedom.
He said ‘right, so we must support Taiwanese students to occupy the Legislative Yuan.’
I said that democracy respects different views and the coexistence of different ideals, and the right to everyone’s opinion.
‘Then, do we have the right to not support Taiwanese students?
Since it is democracy, can we retain respect for different opinions?
Your approach is in direct conflict of the student union’s principle. You are a dictatorship.’
Until I graduated, we never had similar trouble.
It was not only a problem of lacking common sence, but in many ways they can always make an claim that would make ordinary people feel outlandish.
Taiwan and Hong Kong are very similar in this perspect. For example, Taiwan’s “Making electricity with love”. The first time I heard this, I thought it was a joke to smear Taiwan.
As it turned out, it was a real slogan.
Taiwan is a region with energy shortages. In the summers at the beginning of 21st century, it had undergone hundreds of power outages. The authorities proposed a plan to develop nuclear power, but it was strongly opposed by public opinion. An environmental group has launched the banner of “making electricity with love” in the anti-nuclear demonstrations. What was even more bizarre was that this was really common in Taiwan. Many people thought that the concept of generating electricity with love was good, and many politicians who wanted to obtain public support had begun to shout this slogan.
In the match of mental retardation, Hong Kong youth will not let Taiwanese youth shine alone.
In the past, a group of Hong Kong brain-dead students hunger striked in Central for some idiotic things.
What was extraordinary was that this hunger strike was a “relay hunger strike” – a great invention for the students in Hong Kong: the first few people “hunger strike” for eight hours, then go to dinner; another group would take over the ‘hunger strike’ for another eight hours. After their ‘shift’ was over, they went home, slept, and came back the next day. The most bizarre thing was that they were so concerned of malnutrition that they drank sports drinks constantly. With the combination of irregular diet, long time sitting still and high sugar drinks, I would be surprised that after a wave of hunger strikes, the group of Hong Kong middle school students did not gain weight.
As a normal human being, I felt that my intelligence was insulted.
I fully respected their right to express political opinions, but the way they do it made it hard not to think that they were idiots.
I used to enjoy this kind of superiority over my Hong Kong peers and Taiwanese peers. I thought they were too stupid: they did not understand their basic history, their basic politics and their common sense. They only feel excited about shouting out slogans loudly.
However, it took me a long time to realize that it may be that there was a problem with the basic education system in Hong Kong.
After realizing this, I also learned about their textbooks through friends in Hong Kong and found that, compared with the nine-year compulsory education in mainland China, Hong Kong’s textbooks were much more simpler in many ways with many contents glossed over or completely taken out.
You know, the admission rate for Hong Kong universities was about 15%, which means that the people I could reach were already elites at the top 15%, but their level with basic historical and political common sense was disappointing. They could not even compete with their Mainland peers at their most proud of subject: English.
But there is one more thing that I realized much later: they were not the elite people in Hong Kong.
My graduate professor, a man in his 60s, looked as amiable and easy-going, but his family had a large business, properly born with a golden key. He had two doctoral degrees in Law and Management and six master’s degrees including Buddhism, Philosophy, and Literature. He lived in a villa on the back of the Kowloon Tong, a place of gold. His backyard was big enough to host a BBQ party for the entire class. He also pointed for us: ‘You see that house with bamboo in the backyard? That was Jacky Chen’s house.’
My professor’s wife was the runner-up Miss Hongkong from the 80’s. His two sons were about the same age as us. One went to Oxford, and the other went to Cambridge. One studied philosophy, and the other studied theology – these were absolute aristocratic majors in the West.
When I went to his home BBQ, his two sons happened to come home and I talked with them and found that they were both extremely sophisticated. They could talk you through Kant and Sartre all the way to Strauss and Kandinsky. His younger son chatted with us briefly before he excused himself to prepare for a solo piano concert for Christmas. His piano just arrived from overseas and must be ready at the venue.
At that time, we didn’t think too much. I felt that my professor was really a winner in life. Excellent parents. Excellent wife. Excellent sons. Excellent self. Who would not envy a life like that? After a period of time, combined with other things I had encountered in Hong Kong, I realized that it was not as simple as just one family. This represented a huge gap between the elites and common people in Hong Kong.
I once said that young people in Hong Kong are stupid with no common sense because their basic education had gone wrong, but I did not realize that the education of the children of the elites in Hong Kong did not have this problem. Children of the elites were sent directly to study abroad. They go to the top private schools to receive the most advanced education at an early age.
The coffin board of class solidification was nailed like that. The civilians and the elite receive different education and different teaching materials at different schools from different teachers. Civilian education must also embrace ‘quality education’, ‘relaxed education’, ‘multicultural education’ when they lack even the basic common sence and scientific methods to critical thinking. How do they even stand a chance competing with the elites?
Two young Hong Kong youths of the same age, one does not even know the history of the Opium War. One is talking about Sartre’s existentialism and Kandinsky’s cultivation. This is the real visible social gap. The most frightening thing is that this gap is not between the 80% and the 20%, but a gap between the 0.1% and the 99.9%. Does Hong Kong still have hope? It seems that only the 0.1% of the future can be called “hope” – this group of elites has no national boundaries because they had been raised as world citizens, and they have access to the world’s top resources. What is even worse is that their families are in Hong Kong. They will inherit the enormous wealth of their fathers and grandparents, which means that these world citizens are the true masters of Hong Kong.
The vast majority of the remaining 99.9%, it can be said that they are rotten in this small place.
I have been saying that the quality of life of the vast majority of civilians in Hong Kong is not as high as we think. First, the houses are too small, and the housing prices are still so high – the average size of a room is only 5-6 square meters, but the average house price has reached HKD$196,800 per square meter (data of 2018); the road is narrow and crowded, the work pressure is fierce, the climate is hot and humid, and the only good thing is that food is delicious.
Despite the empty, glossy titles, such as the free haven, the financial capital of Asia, and the economic powerhouse, the lives of ordinary people, especially young people, may not be as good. A house can suck them dry.
The prosperity of Hong Kong belongs to its owners: the 0.1%. Ordinary people are not happy with their own lives. This negative sentiment combined with lacking of systematic and reliable basic education, it makes them very easy to be enticed by some superficial rhetoric. They would protest, and they would march, all the while feeling good and glorious about themselves. They point the finger at the Mainland who always takes the blame, and the real masters of Hong Kong – realestate tycoons, financial giants and their children and grandchildren who have become the “world citizens”, silently count their money behind the scene.
So the elite’s Obscurantism was successful. Some of the bottom people were even happy to see their academic pressures easing and actively embraced the so-called “quality”, “loose” and “diversified” cirriculum. Therefore, the 0.1% rule was unbreakable. Their status is even stronger than the feudal lineage. Long may they reign.
It would probably be too much of a conspiracy theory if we say that this was intended by the elites – the policy makers. However, the situation is quite clear if we look at the whole picture. The majority of the society is ‘stupidified’. They do not know how to achieve an established goal. They do not even know what they want. They do not know what they should ask for.
My previous article wrote that Hong Kong’s economic vitality was swallowed up by real estate capital, and the vast majority of Hong Kong’s young people’s labor fruits were exploited by real estate capitalists through extremely high housing prices. But the majority of Hong Kong people have never realized this before, and no one has realized the great role of cracking down on high housing prices for the entire Hong Kong economy. The beast-like realestate industry of Hong Kong has grippled the throat of the Hong Kong economy and devoured the momentum of Hong Kong’s economic progress. The real estate industry has firmly kidnapped all aspects of Hong Kong’s economy and politics. Before 1997, Hong Kong’s real estate and related industries accounted for more than 40% of Hong Kong’s GDP, and the entire regional economic activity almost revolved around the real estate industry. Real estate investment accounts for more than 60% of total fixed assets investment, while the government’s fiscal revenue also depends mainly on land income and other real estate related taxes. In the bond market, real estate stocks accounted for 1/3 of the total market value of Hong Kong stocks. Stocks and real estate prices showed a phenomenon of “shared honor and disgrace”. Real estate and banking are also interdependent, with real estate developers and residential mortgages accounting for more than 30% of total bank loans. Four of Hong Kong’s four families – Li Ka-shing, Kwok Tak-seng, Lee Shau-kee and Cheng Yu-tung – all made their wealth from real estate.
Corresponding to this is the life happiness index of the Hong Kong people under the barbaric realestate industry: the average house price in Hong Kong is 12.6 times the median annual household income, ranking first in the world. As of 2011, 47.7% of Hong Kong residents were unable to purchase private housing and lived in public housing (government low-rent housing) or HOS (government limited-price housing). The per capita occupied housing area is only 12.8 square meters.
High housing prices have seriously damaged Hong Kong’s economic vitality. The economic dividend of the re-export trade center has completely flowed into the real estate market. However, in the current global trade recession and China expanding its exportation, the Hong Kong economy has been weak and has fallen into a comprehensive predicament. The case is very simple, As capitalists, the realestate industry has the highest return, why would they risk investing in emerging industries? As ordinary citizens, will they go to start a business when they are struggling just to survive?
Land has become the basis for the emergence of several major real estate developers in Hong Kong. The huge profits in real estate have enabled them to reach out to other fields which led to the formation of several major family businesses in Hong Kong today who control the almost all public infrastructures in Hong Kong. Power companies, water companies, and gas companies are almost under the control of these real estate developers. Hong Kong’s economy isseverely cartelized—that is, several large monopoly chaebols control all aspects of the economy and enjoy the fruits of economic development, while ordinary people can only struggle on the subsistence line.
In the past 20 years, Hong Kong has grown five times from 7,000 US dollars to 38,000 US dollars in terms of purchasing power parity. It has become one of the world’s richest economy. However, the quality of life of ordinary people did not seem to be improved “five times”. According to the 2016 Oxfam Report, among the 7 million people in Hong Kong, the poverty population is 1.17 million and the poverty rate is as high as 17.6%. The average monthly income of the poorest 10% of households in Hong Kong fell from $2,590 in 2001 to $2,170 in 2011, a drop of 16% in ten years. In the past ten years, the income growth rate of top 10% in Hong Kong was as high as 60%. In 1997, Li Ka-shing’s assets were about 7 billion US dollars. In 2014, Li Ka-shing’s personal assets were 31 billion US dollars, an increase of 442%, and Li family has separated several times in the last decade. The children inherited many of its assets. Li Ka-shing family assets is considered to exceed 100 billion US dollars.
According to the 2014 Credit Suisse statistics, 10% of the wealthy population in Hong Kong controls 77.5% of the wealth, which is nearly 10% higher than a decade ago. The Gini coefficient climbed from 0.518 in 1997 to 0.539 in 2016, ranking first among developed economies. Hong Kong has been ranked the city in which it was most difficult to buy houses for five consecutive years. The housing price-to-income ratio is the world’s highest at 17 times with Vancoucer following behind at 10.6 times.
On the one hand, Hong Kong’s economic vitality is impaired, and the new industry has little development. The channels for social mobility are almost blocked. On the other hand, the people of Hong Kong personally experience the serious gap between the rich and the poor and look up to the unreachable housing prices. This dissatisfaction is accumulating like the straw pile on the back of the camel getting heavier.
House prices far exceed reasonable limits, and the lack of governance of the Hong Kong SAR government over the years is an important reason. Speaking of Hong Kong’s chief executives, Tung Chee-hwa was not too shabby. Why was that? Because Mr. Tung is the only chief executive with no real estate background since Hong Kong SAR. Tung Chee-hwa started his career with shipping. His father Tung Chao-yung was one of the World’s seven shipping tycoons. Even after the world shipping industry was in a downturn and the family business faced a bankruptcy crisis, Tung Chee-hwa did not ask for a penny from the real estate industry. He refused the investment offer from the four major families. Finally, Henry Fok led a capital injection of 120 million U.S. dollars to revitalize the Tung family. Tung started pushing house construction to curb the tide of real estate speculation. He just happened to encounter the Asian financial turmoil, which caused house prices to fall by half during his first two years of service. Since then, Hong Kong has experienced SARS, and house prices in 2003 was only a third of what it was in 1997.
However, Donald Tsang did not have such a high virtue as Mr. Tung. During Tsang’s tenure, he was exposed to have involved in a number of scandals including alleged exchange of interests with the business community, most of which were real estate developers, including multiple trips to wealthy luxury yachts and private jets, as well as valuable gifts from various real estate developers. After retirement, Mr. Tsang rented a 500-square-meter mansion with an annual rent of only 80,000 yuan. This is a typical exchange of interests. I know that when I was studying in Hong Kong, I rented a 7-square-meter single room for 4,000 yuan per month. Just last month, Donald Tsang was convicted of misconduct by a public official and sentenced to 20 months. The evidence in this case is very substantial, so it caused no controversy neither in Hong Kong nor in the mainland. It is the real estate developers who pull him down. In the 7 years since Donald Tsang, the number of completed private residences has remained low with an average of only 12,000 sets per year, less than half of the Tung Chee-hwa period. The number of land sold is also low, with an average of only 8 residential sites sold each year, causing a breakdown in the supply of land and demand of housing. During his tenure, house prices have soared several times, surpassing the peak of 1997.
The third CE in Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, is none other than a real estate accountant. He was also the president of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors and a member of the Hong Kong Housing Authority. He was absolutely a “real estate person”. However, as a chief executive, after all, it was still necessary to consider the overall well-being of the Hong Kong economy. Leung Chun-ying also definitely understands the “blood-sucking” and suppression of the Hong Kong economy by the real estate industry. As early as the Tung Chee-hwa period, Liang was a supporter of Dong’s restrictions on real estate policy. After he took office, he issued a series of ten policies to limit housing prices, which was called “Leung Ten Zhao” by Hong Kong people. However, he has inextricably linked with the real estate industry. The implementation of the policy has also been hampered by real estate developers. The regulation of housing prices in Hong Kong has not yielded any results.
The current Hong Kong chief, Carrie Lam, I found out in her resume that “2003, as the Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands”.
In all the CEs, the most promising candidate to solve the dilemma of Hong Kong’s real estate is Tung’s policy. The “85,000 Plan” launched by Tung was for the benefit of the people of Hong Kong. The only party disadvantaged was the real estate developers. However, with the introduction of the policy, housing prices in Hong Kong continued to fall, and property owners in Hong Kong could not sit still because they had also vested interests in rising housing prices. At that time, the Hong Kong media also added fuel to the fire. In any case, the rise in house prices was incompetence of government, and the fall in house prices was also incompetence of the government. The media always chased the sensation. So for a time, the whole of Hong Kong was sorrowful: the house prices that had risen for so many years was falling and the sky is going to collapse. What is more excessive is that Tung was given a nickname “Tung Ba Wan”. Finally, in the repeated Hong Kong people’s protest against falling house prices, the “85,000 Plan” was dead, and the Hong Kong property market finally embarked on a road of no return.
The title of this article is “Is there a rescue to Hong Kong?”, or a more precise statement is “Can young people in Hong Kong become smarter?” – The answer I gave was pessimistic. Because the whole place in Hong Kong is too small, it is too occluded; and the locals are filled with an arrogant emotion that has been developed afterwards because of the unique geographical and historical factors. It can be said that people in the entire region have lost their critical and reflective nature and are complacent. If Hong Kong’s stripped off of its superior environment, the education and professionalism of Hong Kong young people (except for 0.1% of elites) will not be enough to compete with mainland youth in the same market. At the same time, Hong Kong has been affected by Western values for a long time. The ordinary people are easily enticed. They can easily obtain some superficial satisfaction by protesting and marching once in a while and feel that they have grabbed more glory, more justice, more power, and then continue to use their own flesh and blood to feed the real estate capitalist. They are the merchandize who count the money for merchants.
‘Not in the position, do not speak of the policy’. I have graduated and returned home. I don’t care too much about whether Hong Kong has a future. I am more worried about our own future. Today’s Hong Kong society is a mirror that can reflect many problems in Mainland.
The first issue is the education. I have said in many previous articles that one of the greatest achievements of our country was to promote nine-year compulsory education nationwide. This initiative has allowed even the most remote, rural, mountainous and minority areas to be integrated into the modernization track and provided a solid foundation for the demographic dividend after the reform and opening up. The demographic dividend is not simply a large number of people, but a labor force that can meet the requirements of industrial production and can be incorporated into the economic system. This is the real “dividend.” Compulsory education brings high-quality labor. This “high quality” does not necessarily mean achieving an undergraduate or master’s degree, but for economic activities. Looking at the world, China’s nine-year compulsory education is considered to be “high quality education.” Why is India’s population equally numerous, but there is not very obvious demographic dividend? Because India has not experienced the revolution that has affected us so far in China. The feudal remnants of the vast areas such as the countryside are still serious, and the vast majority of the population live in the mud and cannot join industrial production. They are a group of people abandoned by the entire economy, and they represent the absolute majority of the country.
Liu Cixin’s science fiction novel “Country Teacher” is a tribute to an ordinary and great grassroots educator:
“So, what is the way they communicate with each other?”
“Extremely primitive and rare. They have a very thin organ in their body that produces sound waves when it vibrates in an oxygen-nitrogen-based atmosphere of their planet, while modulating the information to be transmitted through the sound waves. The receiver also uses a thin film organ to receive information from the sound waves.”
“How much is the rate of information transmission in this way?”
“About 1 to 10 bits per second.”
“What?!” Everyone who heard this on the flagship laughed.
“It’s really 1 to 10 bits per second. We didn’t believe it at first, but it was verified over and over again.”
“Captain, are you an idiot?!” The commander of the fleet was furious. “You want to tell us that there is no memory inheritance, and each other uses sound waves to exchange information, and it is incredibly 1 to 10 bits per second. At this rate, this specie can create a 5B-level civilization?! And this civilization evolved without interference from any external high-level civilization?!”
“But, sir, it is.”
“But in this state, it is impossible for this species to accumulate and transfer knowledge between generations, which is necessary for the evolution of civilization!”
“They have an individual, at a certain number, distributed in every corner of the population, and these individuals act as a medium for knowledge transfer between two generations of living things.”
“Sounds like a myth.”
“No,” the senator said. “There was a concept in the age of the Milky Way civilization, but even at that time it was extremely rare. Very few people knew about the evolutionary history of our galaxy civilizations.”
“Do you mean the individual who passes knowledge between two generations of life?”
“They are called teachers.”
Many people think that the “college entrance examination” is a good embodiment of China’s education fairness. I say that it is not completely correct. The real education equality lies in the distribution of educational resources. The college entrance examination is only a small component, just a result, a ritualized certification. We can’t just see the surface phenomenon like the Hong Kong people and ignore the essential problem. So, as I am in the general predicament of doctors and teachers at the grassroots level: Why is work so hard, and the reward is so low? and The dilemma of healthcare, education, pension and social security, where is the best antidote? In these two articles, the conclusions of nearly 30,000 words are analyzed: some industries should not be privatized. Healthcare is one, and education is one.
Some people say that the problem of healthcare, pension and education is the result of incomplete privatization. If you say such things, it is because either your brain is broken or your conscience is broken. We have analyzed so much that we still can’t see it. Completely market-orientated education and healthcare would produce elite schools and private hospitals like those in the United States. The results is that, except for a few rich people, the ordinary citizens can’t afford proper treatment and education. At present, we can already see some very bad signs. The state does not provide enough financial support for medical care and education. The doctors are under low pay, and they use medicine rebates and unnecessary examinations to make up for it. Teachers are low-paid, and excellent teachers have flowed into private schools. The quality of public school education are getting weaker and weaker, and teachers are getting more and more slacky. Elite children either go abroad or go to expensive private schools. It will be like public schools in the U.S. and Japan which leading to more solidified society. The elite will always be the elite, and the ordinary people will rot in the quagmire.
The other issue is the real estate. As mentioned above, Hong Kong is a city that has been absorbed by the real estate economy. Even with the prosperous and developed banner, most ordinary people can hardly enjoy the happiness brought about by development. Our real estate market faces the same problem, such as the theory of “six wallets” (couples, and four parents on both sides) to support a property, which shows that the real estate industry not only absorbs the blood of ordinary people, but also absorbs blood from other industries. – Six wallets are emptied for the house, what can other industry rely on? More analysis has also been described in the article “Critique of the Real Estate Market“, and will not be repeated here.
Again, why do I always take the trouble to analyze the problems in Hong Kong? Because the issues in Hong Kong are not unique. The man of Ch’in, having no opportunity of lamenting himself, was left to be lamented by later generations; and the later generations who lament Ch’in, but refuse to learn a lesson from him make later generations lament the later generations.