Pressure and Worries Haunt Hong Kong’s Upper and Middle Class

March 5, 2014 Updated: March 5, 2014


HONG KONG–The third suicide in three weeks at JPMorgan Chase took place a few weeks ago when project manager Dennis Li jumped to his death from the bank’s Hong Kong office tower.

Li, 33, is suspected to have been fired. The incident shocked Hong Kong’s Central District and raised discussion about the pressure faced by JPMorgan employees as well as Hong Kong’s upper and middle class in general.

“Many people are frustrated,” said Mr. Tsui, another employee of the huge U.S. bank. He said he was dismayed to learn of Mr. Li’s suicide, and that there is currently a lot of layoff pressure under the general downturn in investment banking.

Mr. Chan, an investment banking project manager, said that after Li jumped off the Chater House tower, “the news spread throughout Central, and my colleagues were talking about it at lunch or discussing it through SMS.”

“It is scary to pass by Chater House,” Chan added. “Such a tragedy happened just after the Chinese New Year; this is a bad omen.”

JPMorgan Under Investigation

The FBI is investigating JPMorgan and at least six other big banks for possible violation of anti-bribery laws, the New York Times reported.

In 2006, JPMorgan established a project called the “Children Scheme” in which they hired children of mainland Chinese dignitaries in exchange for obtaining contracts from state-owned enterprises.

The New York Times quoted classified U.S. government documents stating that JPMorgan is seeking lucrative deals with a number of Chinese insurance companies. Xiang Junbo, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, recommended the daughter of a family friend to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon during a meeting in June 2012, the Times reported.

After JPMorgan hired Tang Xiaoning, the son of China Everbright Group chairman Tang Shuangning, JPMorgan made several big business deals with China Everbright Group, according to the Times.

The Times disclosed that through the “Children Scheme,” JPMorgan has hired more than 30 children of China’s princeling cadres, which is an open secret in its Hong Kong headquarters. If it is found that JPMorgan or the other banks are violating anti-bribery laws, the authorities may decide to prosecute individuals or banks.

Poor Prospects for Middle Class

The JPMorgan suicide incident has caused reflection on the troubles that face Hong Kong’s middle class. With high property prices, social chaos, and the deteriorating political environment since Leung Chun-ying became Hong Kong Chief Executive, the middle class is in a dilemma.

Data announced in 2013 by Knight Frank LLP showed that Hong Kong’s residential property prices rose by 28 percent last year, more than anywhere else in the world.

Choi Yung Mei, editor of Open Magazine, has a daughter who just returned to Hong Kong after graduating in the United States. Her daughter spends HK $8,000 (US $1,031) to share an apartment of less than 300 square feet in the Sha Tin District.

Choi said that young people her daughter’s age are not optimistic about the current environment in Hong Kong.

“With a monthly salary of HK $40,000 [US $5,154], one actually cannot afford an apartment. If you buy a unit with a living room and two bedrooms, it costs 5 to 6 million, and you have to pay a monthly mortgage in the tens of thousands. It is miserable for the middle class,” Choi said.

Choi said that many young people and those in the middle class are considering immigrating to places such as Taiwan, which has recently become a hot spot.

“After Leung Chun-ying took charge, the whole society has become very tense, and there is a sense of insecurity,” Choi said.

According to one analysis, after Leung Chun-ying took charge he adopted the style of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), supporting one group to fight another in order to polarize the society. For example, he has used pro-CCP organizations to suppress groups such as Falun Gong practitioners and democrats, and he has implemented stringent real estate policies and incited hatred for the rich.

Data from the Hong Kong Security Bureau shows that 3,900 Hong Kong people emigrated abroad in the first half of 2013, a rise of 8.3 percent compared with the same period the year before.

In response to the growing emigration trend in Hong Kong and Macau, Taiwan’s Ministry of Interior has announced a tightening of immigration regulations on people from Hong Kong and Macau. In a few months, the minimum fee will double from approximately HK $1.31 million (US $168,791) to approximately HK $2.63 million (US $338,870).

Mr. Yam, the CEO of an accounting firm in Central, said that he intends to immigrate overseas with his wife and son.

“The middle class in Hong Kong is facing too much pressure now, and the cost of living is too high,” Mr. Yam said. “After Leung Chun-ying came onstage, we see absolutely no hope. For the next generation, it is better to immigrate overseas.”

Translated by JK Lu. Written in English by Sally Appert.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.