Why are Hong Kongers so unhappy?

Why are Hong Kongers so unhappy?

Li Xueying, The Straits Times

August 29 2012

In Hong Kong, there are nine Fortune Courts, four Rich Courts and three Wealthy Courts – mostly built in the 1980s and 1990s.

In more recent years, in vogue are projects named after overseas locations: Residence Bel-Air, La Maison Du Nord, Sunrise Cannes.

Any marketing student knows that in selling anything, it is essential to pitch it to the aspirations of one’s clientele.So the shift in residential name fads may be a case of evolving aesthetic taste. But it also points to something deeper that has changed in Hong Kong.

A people who used to pride themselves on being go-getters, who believed they could become rich/wealthy/make their fortune if they put their minds to it, have become anxious that they can no longer succeed in Hong Kong. Far better, it seems, to dream of living in a paradise away from here.

According to the Global Barometre of Happiness, just four in 10 Hong Kongers said they felt happy, sending the territory to No. 42 on the list of 58 polled. The most recent survey, the Happy Planet Index, had Hong Kong at No. 102 among 151 – the lowest-ranked Asian entry. Singapore was the second-lowest, at No. 90.Such findings, together with a record number of protests – 6,878 last year – were probably what prompted Taiwanese writer Alice Yang to point to Hong Kongers’ “collective anxiety”.

Her article in the Yazhou Zhoukan, noting the same trend in Taiwan, Singapore and the mainland, was cited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, as he spoke of how the anxiety is due to the “Four Asian Dragons” searching for a new development path after an era of rapid growth.

Hong Kongers are down in the dumps for a variety of reasons.

Material success – and having more of it compared with one’s peers – has always been key to happiness in Hong Kong, noted Hayes Tang, a sociologist from Hong Kong University (HKU).

But this Hong Kong dream is being thwarted by structural obstacles, most notably the dominance of vested property and banking interests in the economy, and by extension their hold on the government, given that half its revenue comes from land sales.

On a more visceral level is Hong Kongers’ sense of powerlessness over their destiny. Delays in implementing universal suffrage have deepened this angst, as has having to adjust to being “just another southern Chinese city”.A new path for Hong Kong means fixing all these various issues. There are no easy answers: For instance, would Hong Kongers give up their status as the world’s freest economy to prevent foreigners from buying their homes? Would they pay higher taxes to shake off the shackles of the property developers?

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