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Five days after the Tiananmen Square massacre, Deng Xiaoping indicated that this “counter-revolutionary turmoil” was bound to happen because of trends in the da qihou (literally, the larger climate; figuratively, major domestic and global developments. To understand the intriguing changes that have taken place in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) ten years after 1 July 1997, it is instructive to assess changes in not only Hong Kong itself but also Beijing-Hong Kong relations. China’s precipitous rise to within striking distance of attaining “quasisuperpower status also has to be taken into account.
Hong Kong has been through numerous ups and downs in the ten years since the handover. The media have also undergone significant changes in relation to the larger social and political reconfigurations. While the press, driven by market forces and professional ideologies, has continued to provide timely information to the public and to monitor the behavior of power holders, the power center has employed various means to tame the media, and selfcensorship remains a haunting issue.
This paper attempts to sketch a longitudinal profile on the evolution of a working class in Hong Kong context in light of the thesis of embourgeoisement. The increasing economic affluence in the 1980s and early 1990s appeared to have bred an optimism in society that the members of the working class were converging in life-style and consumption behaviour with the middle class in a process of embourgeoisement. However, the thesis of embourgeoisement comes under question again around the turn of the millennium in the advent of globalisation and the successive waves of recession that afflict Hong Kong. The vicissitudes of capitalistic competition, leading to business restructuring, corporate down-sizing and other austerity prescriptions of labour cost-saving, popularise the practices of flexi-hiring, atypical employment, outsourcing, labour shedding and retrenchment. The upshot of these austerity exercises has been the re-casualisation of the labour market and the emasculation of the employment and income security of a growing fringe of peripheral workers vulnerable to industrial deprivation and exploitation. As a consequence we now see a new industrial proletariat or urban sub-class emerging in post-industrial Hong Kong. Its “embrace” as a hybrid working class transcends a spectrum of blue-collar and service occupations. Because of the diversity in its composition, the prospects for a solidaristic working class to emerge are again remote. And the role of the trade unions in providing an effective leverage for uplifting and protecting their position is limited, as illustrated by the “impasse” now still looming over the proposed enactments to prescribe a minimum wage level and standard work hours.