Hong Kong

Guardian Columnist: Hong Kong Protesters Motivated by Economic Jealousy

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Super jelly of the mainland
pasuay@incendo/Foter

In The Guardian, Martin Jacques makes the case that the greater context for the upheaval in Hong Kong is more complicated than it appears to many Westerners, but overplays his hand when he dismisses the pro-democracy complaints against the Chinese government as being essentially a red herring.

A prominent intellectual and noted expert on Chinese affairs, Jacques lived in Hong Kong for years and even wrote a book called When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order.

He correctly bristles at the misconception that Hong Kong enjoyed democracy under British rule and that China is revoking the privilege of universal suffrage. Indeed, the British never allowed citizens of Hong Kong to elect its governors, which were appointed from "6,000 miles away in London." Why he finds it preferable for Beijing to select Hong Kong's leaders from 1,200 miles away is unclear.

Jacques credits the Chinese for honoring the continuation of the British traditions of "rule of law and the right to protest" since taking over sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, as evidenced by the current protests. But he makes no mention of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, the subjugation of Tibet or the ethnic Uighurs, or any of the Chinese Communist Party's infamous authoritarianism.

He thinks far too much has been made of the protesters' demands that China honor its stated committment to "universal suffrage" and to allow Hongkongers to directly elect their chief executive. Rather, he suspects the protesters are motivated by economic jealousy of mainlaind Chinese, who's fortunes have soared in the past two decades while theirs have stagnated:

Herein lies a fundamental reason for the present unrest: the growing sense of dislocation among a section of Hong Kong's population. During the 20 years or so prior to the handover, the territory enjoyed its golden era – not because of the British but because of the Chinese. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping embarked on his reform programme, and China began to grow rapidly. It was still, however, a relatively closed society. Hong Kong was the beneficiary – it became the entry point to China, and as a result attracted scores of multinational companies and banks that wanted to gain access to the Chinese market. Hong Kong got rich because of China. It also fed an attitude of hubris and arrogance. The Hong Kong Chinese came to enjoy a much higher standard of living than the mainlanders. They looked down on the latter as poor, ignorant and uncouth peasants, as greatly their inferior. They preferred – up to a point – to identify with westerners rather than mainlanders, not because of democracy (the British had never allowed them any) but primarily because of money and the status that went with it.

Much has changed since 1997. The Chinese economy has grown many times, the standard of living of the Chinese likewise…Understandably, many Hong Kong Chinese are struggling to come to terms with these new realities. They are experiencing a crisis of identity and a sense of displacement. They know their future is inextricably bound up with China but that is very different from embracing the fact. Yet there is no alternative: China is the future of Hong Kong.

Jacques is entitled to a worldview based on his own experience, research and analysis. But it takes some bold projection to assume that a 17-year-old protester risking life and limb against riot police isn't really interested in participating in democracy but it just acting out, frustrated that mainland Chinese are more prosperous than they were before he was born.

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  1. I think an interesting question that I haven’t seen addressed is why the protests are occurring in Hong Kong instead of Beijing?

    1. There’s no place to park tanks in Hong Kong?

    2. Because residents of Beijing largely don’t care. Sadly, I’d bet they find the Hong Kong protesters to be annoying, at best.

    3. People in the West are thinking that if this sort of thing spreads it would be to Shanghai. That would make a hell of a lot more sense than Beijing.

      1. It isn’t spreading. The number one concern of 80 percent of Chinese males is how am I going to find a wife. The capitulation of the USSR led to a steady exodus of mail order brides that really only stopped around five years ago. And that’s without taking into account that a significant portion of Chinese women when given the chance elect to out marry. That’s not the case for Russian women who were almost entirely mercenary in the departure for the West to get married.

        Why on earth would a chinese male overthrow the one organization that while perhaps evil prevents an exodus of already scarce females? Moreover, that same government isn’t shy about dropping hints that when the times right we’ll secure you a wife the way the Romans did with the Sabines.

        1. So 80% of Chinese males don’t have a wife ?

          Who knew ?

          1. Yeah, that whole thing has the BS meter at red line.

            1. Hopefully not a red line on an Obama-model detector – you never really know what the damn thing is set at.

            2. 80% might be high, but given the believed societal requirement that all Chinese families have a make heir, combined with the government one kid rule, there is known and documented pressure causing abortions on female children leading to a birth rate no where close to the standard 49% male/51% female.

              And that does leave many unmarried males when many fewer chances than they’ve had historically due to lack of females.

              Same is true in many middle eastern countries, though they have no birth policies, since males can marry multiple females and wealth is held by a very small number of families, the very rich can have 20 wives, effectively removing 19 for other potential suitors.

    4. Probably because things are improving in the urban centers at a sufficient rate to placate the Beijing city-dwellers, whilst also recognizing that the Chinese government will be more firm with Beijing than with Hong Kong. In contrast, HK has done worse by being wrested from the UK and forced into political union with mainland China (something not particularly desired by the inhabitants). Carrot + stick incentives are very different in Beijing than they are in HK, to put it mildly.

  2. Well, the standard of living in mainland China has been so low for so long, it eventually had to start going up at some point.

    Does it really matter who chooses a government? Even if you have democracy, it doesn’t ensure that the government will be accountable to the people. Hell, I don’t know how you can ever truly have an accountable government. It sure as shit doesn’t exist in a republic with codified constitutional limitations.

  3. Indeed, the British never allowed citizens of Hong Kong to elect it’s governors, which were appointed from “6,000 miles away in London.” Why he finds it preferable for Beijing to select Hong Kong’s leaders from 1,200 miles away is unclear.

    Let’s not be coy, he is a Guardian columnist. We all know exactly why he prefers ChiCom rule to BritCol rule.

    1. Apparently even post-Communist corrupt nationalist ChiCom rule is superior to local direct elections.

  4. Hong Kong’s economic prosperity is because of Chinese growth? Amazing that someone who claims to be an expert on Hong Kong has apparently not read Free to Choose.

    1. I think he was asserting that Hongkongers are jealous of the economic system in mainland China.

      1. Which is laughable really.

    2. He’s a commie, so he thinks 50% growth from a base level of 100 is better than 5% growth from a base level of 1000.

  5. Anybody have a reason for why Hong Kong’s economy has “stagnated” in recent years? I’m not seeing any indications of a stagnation in my Google search.

    1. That’s because you need to be looking up Martin Jacques’ ass instead of google.

    2. No idea what he’s talking about. The only thing I noticed when running the numbers is the insane growth in Singapore and in Macao, which pushed them beyond both Hong Kong and the US in the last decade.

      Like, holy shit.

      1. Wow…what is so special about Macau? Have barely heard of it up to now.

        1. It’s a decent safeword.

          1. The food kicks ass, Chinese/Portuguese fusion.

        2. what is so special about Macau?

          Macau is Las Vegas for Chinese people.

          1. But better.

            Seriously, anything that Las Vegas has is pretty much replicated in Macau by x1000, and anything that is *wink wink* legal-in-all-but-name in Las Vegas is ostentatiously shoved into your path in Macau.

            Similar growth dynamics for both cities, in many ways (from a historical vantage point Macau wasn’t too big a deal relative to other south Chinese urban areas until recently, and exploded thanks to its vigorous and none too shy attempts to *be* Chinese Las Vegas).

            1. I did a google search for Macau, and one of the first hits was a raid on a Brothel that was being run by the police. One wonders who conducted the raid.

            2. Not so sure about better. Yeah, the city has an amazing feel but the casinos are all business. Chinese gamblers are hardcore; they smoke like chimneys and don’t want to be distracted by glitzy decors in the pits or shows. If you want shows and variety, go to Vegas. If you want to gamble and see a fascinating mashup of architecture (China meets old world Europe meets 21st century casino), go to Macau.

  6. How could I predict that a Guardian writer would take the side of the Chinese government?

    Oh, let’s see, because Hong Kong represents “capitalism” in some vague symbolic way, and the Chinese government still has the word “Communist” in it’s name?

    I mean, it couldn’t possibly matter ot a leftist (of all people) that the issue at stake is whether the people of Hong Kong get to actually nominate the people they are going to be allowed to vote for in the election. After all, there is still some oblique point ot be made about the superiority of government control of -stuff-, even if you technically can’t call it “communism” any more.

    We can’t have people in a symbolically capitalist place scoring points against a formerly comunist government, because image is everything and we still think we can pull one out and claim that communism is superior if only the Chinese government like wins or something. Hong Kong bad! Communism good! All is big master plot by evil capitalists, must support Chinese government because symbolism!

    1. No HK represents the West and hence whites. No one actually sees chinese as communist anymore. the real unrepentant reds and pinks identify with Castro or even Milosevic. What really makes Gaurdians angry is when lower class whites celebrate the achievements of Western culture. Pride is something you earn with cosmopolitanism and status games. Hong Kong that final outpost of the British Empire represents everything atavistic and putrid to the left. The fact that Hong Kong ebulliently dashed into the arms of its Han brothers in order to rid itself of white rule is conviently discarded. Read the title of his book again this is a man that wants nothing so much than to kick western culture in the mouth. That he shares that mentality with the father of the next likely PM is well better left unmentioned.

      1. Those are some impressive mental gymnastics.

  7. “A prominent intellectual and noted expert”

    i.e. “person who has better than average chance of being completely fucking wrong about *everything*”

    He suggests that “rates of growth” are more appealing than actual “standards of living”

    ‘Regular Chinese’ may have seen a rapid growth in per-capita income and a dramatic rise in standard of living over the last 20 years that outpaced the rate of change in Hong Kong – but so what? Hong Kong was starting from a base of one of the highest standards of living on Earth. When you are starting at a base of “Zero”, exponential growth is not as exciting as it may seem on paper.

    The fact is that Chinese economic expansion has not delivered a ‘hong kong’ standard of living to the majority of average Chinese in any way. Millions remain tied to subsistence-level incomes and economic mobility is unevenly distributed.

    Pretending that mere ‘growth’ is attractive by itself, completely outside of the beneficial qualitative factors of living in a Free Society, is Tom Friedman-level stupid (which is simply saying, “Guardian Standard”?).

    Hong Kongers have enjoyed their ‘fat’ period, yes. But having tasted the benefits of freedom, they want more. it takes a real neosocialist stretch of the imagination to transmute these protests into a “desire to be more like the repressed communists” on the mainland.

    1. But he used the word “context”, so he’s obviously of superior intelligence.

    2. Maybe the people in Kong Kong are jealous of how the air smells in Beijing.

      1. Then they can have a relative in Beijing slice them a chunk and send it to them.

  8. Speaking of which, I am reminded how in my Canadian high school classes, we were given articles to read about the Hong Kong slums to prove that even though those bad, bad, Americans kept saying that Hong Kong was better the poor people in Hong Kong were really suffering so therefore we shouldn’t believe that hong Kong was a better place to live than mainland China.

    This is the sort of shite Canadians get taught in high school. Seriously.
    It was like non-stop anti-American pro-socialist propaganda, mixed with equivocations about the USSR.

    1. Socialists love to frame it like this:

      “Well, some people have lagged behind others in socialist countries. But at least socialism is trying, dammit! Unlike capitalist countries.”

      1. You’re missing the big picture. In socialist countries, everyone is almost equal! Because they’re all in the 100-150 level. In free countries, the range is 1000 to 1,000,000,000, so see the horrifying inequality!

        1. The fact that the entire pro-science left has completely failed simple math still boggles the mind.

          In my society, the richest guy is 100, the poorest guy is 0. But in your society, the richest guy is 1,000,000, the poorest guy is 0. INCOME INEQUALITY!

    2. Socialists think of capitalism as primitive. That is, they think that all socialists societies were preceded by a “capitalist” society.

      Therefore, all social suffering originated from the capitalist society that preceded the institution of socialism. Furthermore, all social suffering still existent under socialism is the result of lagging segments in which socialism has not been fully implemented.

      1. So it’s the same argument as “BOOOOOOOSH!”

      2. True. According to Marx’s rip-off of Hegal’s historical dialectic, History is destined to end in socialism.

        Nevermind that it’s been 160 years since Marx wrote the communist manifesto, the Revolution is still coming.

        1. It’s to laugh… According to Marx, communism was the unavoidable ideal…

          I remember after the fall of the Berlin wall, Michael Parenti lamented that communism had failed because it was encircled by capitalists. Please ignore that Marx claimed that socialism would prevail because of capitalism.

          1. Remember ‘The End of History’?

            The truth is, that whole book was a big piece of snark making fun of Marxists by arguing that the Collapse of Communism prove that History will end in Capitalism.

            LOL. That’s why they hated it so much.

    3. The indoctrination in BC was more geared to environmentalism and PC wrt to native indians. They invited speakers to come in and address hundreds of students at once to tell us how the Spirit Bear was threatened or some such horseshit. Considering what I experienced in school it’s amazing that my generation isn’t a lot worse and it’s a miracle that I turned out as awesome as I am.

      1. Are those the same natives who hunted the mammoth and the mastodon to extinction in a few thousand years?

        1. I understand your point, but not really. Yes, they were/are descended from those people, but cultures change quite a bit over the course of thousands of years. It’s like saying that modern Scandinavians are the same people who raided villages all across Europe 1,000 years ago.

          1. Yes, it’s possible that having hunted the Giant Sloth to extinction they were left without a food source, and their culture learned something from the experience. Like, don’t kill the pregnant deer, and just eat the weakest buffalo.

            1. Giant Sloths lived in South America, thousands of miles from any buffalo.

              1. Close enough. All those people migrated down from the Bering Straite ts they probably killed off animals all along the way, leaving behind tribes of starving descendents.

          2. Modern Scandinavians ARE the same people that raided villages all across Europe.

            Piss them off and see what happens.

            And the eco-indian is a creation of ‘noble savage’ mythmakers–places like Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump should make that more than clear. Go for the weakest buffalo? Why? Slaughter the whole herd.

            1. True. There was a Buffalo run near where I grew up. Pile of Bones.

        2. Giant Sloths FTW!

  9. But it takes some bold projection to assume that a 17 year-old protester risking life and limb against riot police isn’t really interested in participating in democracy, he’s acting out

    DING DING DING we have a winner!

    1. Not just that, but the claim this is about jealousy due to income gaps… as the internet and cheaper air travel continue to make the world smaller, wouldn’t that allow jealousy between say Chinese citizens and the US wrt average living standards?

      Of course their answer for that is to make the US into a developing nation, but the point here is even if this is jealousy and can be fixed by screwing the nearby rich is some wealth transfer, the problem would simply reappear when those same people see other countries where wealth is more spread out due to the lack of governmental control.

      But I’m not that arrogant – the Chinese people want what they want for the reasons they want and it’s unlikely it’s based upon any other country’s supposed successes.

      Just like I don’t think protestors are risking their lives just to get the government to steal from some and give to others.

  10. To quote a six year old Alton Knutson, “King Kong went to Hong Kong to play ping pong with his ding dong”

  11. So that’s why the New York Times hates Texas so and the South so much. We used to be poor and now not so much. But why does Reason hate the South?

    1. It does?

      1. It doesn’t. However, to the extent that Reason is an “it” with feelings, it might hate folks like Sam.

    2. Because it’s hot and humid and there are giant spiders and roaches everywhere and people are fat and traffic sucks and Florida.

      1. OTOH, it has the best food in the country, the best fishing in the country, some of the better hunting, the people are helpful and friendly mostly and less litigious than Yankees, real estate is reasonable, and most of it is not Florida. And I grew up on the saltgrass prairies South of Houston, so I know of what I speak.

        1. Being from the south Houston area I’m disappointed you left off best birding in the country.

        2. At times it seems there are more Texasn here at Reason comments than any other group.

          If you still live south of Houston we are neighbors. I live on Clear Creek next to Clear lake.

          1. Is there a Muddy Lake?

            1. Most of Houston is a muddy swamp, so yeah.

          2. We all really should meet up sometime. maybe grab some Killen’s BBQ. I’m south of Houston as well, lake Jackson area. (well, in Brazil right now, but that’s where my house is.)

    3. Not many cosmotarians in the South.

  12. Is he saying that the protesters are in favor of democracy like the American Left – so they vote themselves a lot of other people’s wealth?

  13. Well keep in mind the type of readers the Guardian caters to:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGscoaUWW2M

    Guardian comment is at 1:10 but the funny stuff starts about 0:55 in.

  14. “Much has changed since 1997. The Chinese economy has grown many times, the standard of living of the Chinese likewise…Understandably, many Hong Kong Chinese are struggling to come to terms with these new realities. They are experiencing a crisis of identity and a sense of displacement. They know their future is inextricably bound up with China but that is very different from embracing the fact. Yet there is no alternative: China is the future of Hong Kong.”

    At first glance, it looks like that paragraph says something (other than the Chinese economy has grown). The second read has you saying WHAAT?
    What “new realities”? A “crises of identity”? Hogwash on stilts.

  15. *Someone* has a great deal of “economic jealousy” going on–but it’s not the Hong Kong folks, who are protesting in favor of capitalism and individualism.

    It is always transparent projection with the leftoids.

  16. The damn Gaurdian is as bad as Salon. Pinko propaganda rag.

    What Gilmore said: “A prominent intellectual and noted expert”

    i.e. “person who has better than average chance of being completely fucking wrong about *everything*”

    1. The damn Gaurdian is as bad as Salon. Pinko propaganda rag

      See my link above.

      A prominent intellectual and noted expert

      It’s circular expertise: “I believe A about situation Z and I’m pretty smart. Since Johnny over here believes A but adds a really good A1, he must also be an expert. And Jane – who also believes A – has told me that Johnny is a real expert so he must be.” It’s really amazing that such smart people never see this logic fail.

      It’s like all the academics I know: “wow, when we study history in detail, we come up with conclusions that agree with our own political beliefs. Cool, our political beliefs are now confirmed by historical analysis.”

    2. Probably worse. You haven’t read much of the Guardian, have you?

    3. The Guardian is much, much worse than Salon. Salon wishes it could be as bad as the Guardian.

  17. They preferred ? up to a point ? to identify with westerners rather than mainlanders, not because of democracy (the British had never allowed them any) but primarily because of money and the status that went with it.

    Capitalist wealth and freedom vs Communist squalor and oppression

    How could anybody know which to choose?

  18. BTW, there is some movement:

    “Hong Kong leader won’t quit, offers talks instead”
    http://www.sfgate.com/news/wor…..ationworld

    I’d say not a bit of this is happening on the gov’t side without approval (encouragement?) from Beijing.

  19. Insert snarky Thomas Friedman reference here.

  20. But it takes some bold projection to assume that a 17 year-old protester risking life and limb against riot police isn’t really interested in participating in democracy, he’s acting out, frustrated that mainland Chinese are more prosperous than they were before he was born.

    Considering that this describes leftist protest in the UK to a fucking tee, right down to nostalgia about coal miner unions and Thatcher hatred, I’d say Martin Jacques is doing a damn fine job of recontextualizing HK protests in light of his experiences in England.

  21. Why he finds it preferable for Beijing to select Hong Kong’s leaders from 1,200 miles away is unclear.

    Because Chinese party appartchik ass is much more pleasing to the tongue than that of a British civil servant.

    You weren’t seriously suggesting these people be allowed to elect their own rulers were you?

    1. Eh, the elections HK has ATM aren’t exactly doing wonders for the place. Democracy did not make HK great. While my sympathies are definitely in favor of those who are being intimidated by the remnant Red-ruled rump of Communist China, in my universe Scholarism’s demands for universal suffrage would be met with a polite but firm “no” on the part of HK’s government, in favor of a managed republic.

      Better to have rulers with limited powers, than the facade of democratic accountability eventually giving way to rulers with unlimited power. The developed world’s foray into universal suffrage has shown the difficulties in maintaining both universal suffrage and freedom in many areas of life; universal suffrage has been simply disastrous for less developed countries. It’s an irrational fixation made worse by the intensity of support for it (and the relative lack of same for legitimate freedoms).

      1. I agree that it’s unfortunate the focus is on democracy rather than liberalism, as shown in the contrast with the Tiananmen Square pic here:
        http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-29454326

        Nonetheless, since the protests are strictly anti-government/mainland, are not as ignorant as the Occupiers in the US; and after the apologies they made to businesses, and hearing about how they cleared paths to allow traffic through, I am inclined to think local elections there would not lead to worse results, at least for now.

  22. Has this jerk even been to Hong Kong or mainland China?

    Hong Kong is one of the most civil, bustling and prosperous places I’ve ever seen. China, while having a lot of potential, is still largely a shithole.

    Has he even seen a side by side comparison of per capita GDP of the two places? China may have more millionaires, but HK has a far better per capita standard of living. At least, I though progs preferred places with a robust middle class than one with more millionaires.

    1. Why would you think that? They like millionaires and peasants and hate the middle class.

      1. Yup. Bourgeois is one of the biggest insults they can muster.

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