John Larrysson's Column: Upper, Middle and Working Class

What is upper, middle and working class? Long ago, in a country far far away (Canada), there was a young man from a poor family who went to university. His tuition and living expenses were paid for with a scholarship. He won this scholarship because his marks were so high. Then he went to a party at the house of a rich classmate, whose parents were not at home. The party got very loud late in the night.

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The neighbours complained to the police. When the police came to the door, not only did the rich students refuse to turn down the music, they threw things at the police. The poor young man was very afraid. For him, hitting the police was a serious crime that would get one sent to jail quickly. The rich students knew that their parents could hire good lawyers; for them it was just excitement. Eventually the police called the rich student’s parents and the party was ended and the poor student got away. This true story is an example of the problems with social-class in our society.

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Class prejudice is part of the Hong Kong 2019+ protests. Class theory divides society into three groups. The upper class get their wealth from their parents, who got it from theirs. The middle class have jobs that depend on education, such as teachers and lawyers. The working class have jobs that require physical effort and hands-on-skills, such as carpenters and factory workers. (There are other definitions and details, but I am simplifying to be brief.)  

Class perceptions are very important in Hong Kong. People in business dress to reflect their middle class background or aspirations. Why else would so many people wear suits and ties in warm Hong Kong? Suits and ties were originally clothing used to keep warm in a cool damp English climate. The justice system treats upper and middle class people better than working class people. (Editorial: Blunders In Bokhary Case

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Protesters are shocked that the police would respond when bricks are thrown at them. The police are seen as being there to keep working class people in place. It is assumed that the police, who are working class themselves, should not bother (mostly) middle class protesters. Throwing a brick at the police is not seen as a crime by middle class protesters, because the police are only working class. (Back in Thatcher’s Britain, protesters often pretended to identify with the working class, even if they are actually of middle class background, but then found the physical reality of law enforcement shocking.)

Many foreign news outlets report on how the police have treated protesters, but they seldom mention how protesters have attacked the police with bricks, laser pointers and petrol bombs. (Especially at the beginning) This bias in news reporting fulfils their readers' prejudices about China. How long will we have this double-standard, where violence by middle class protesters is ignored, while the police are criticised for doing their job with minimal force? Maybe fighting is not the answer.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


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