Hong Kong: Promoting Finance, Averting Politics


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date25 Mar 2020


Since the handover from British rule in 1997, Hong Kong has been undergoing rapid financialization, reflected in increased reliance on the financial service industry, increased uptake of retail investment products and wider dissemination of financial advertising and media,. This pattern has intensified since the 2008 global financial crisis. The government and the financial industry have aimed not only at boosting the city’s status as a global financial centre but also ‘outreaching’ concertedly to ordinary Hong Kong citizens to become financially educated, devoting more efforts to these initiatives than pressing debates on pension reform. Why and how have individuals and households been taking up more financial products, even in the face of stark income inequality? For what motives, and by what rationalities, have people replaced their old practices - such as simply relying on family as a social safety net in case of illness, or saving money in the bank - with new ones? At the individual and household level, classical rational self-interest cannot be assumed to be the only way of thinking (‘rationality’). Through discourse analysis of government agencies (such as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Investor Education Centre) documents, semi-structured interviews with financial product intermediaries including insurance sales staff and financial planners, and semi-structured interviews with social workers and others who conduct financial education, this research reveals the concepts and identities which are being promoted to Hong Kong citizens and how they receive them. Among the major findings: the funding mode and historical elite backgrounds of social service organizations and schools lead to the professionals in those fields to spread the implied discourses in OECD-style financial education – poverty and inequalities in the employment field are realities to adjust to rather than challenge and responsible citizens solve financial difficulties by informed self-education and reliance on financial instruments rather than collective action. These contribute to the spread of financial practices and rationalities at all income levels in Hong Kong. The messages in government promotion, echoes by promotion in schools and service NGOs, serve as supportive advertising for the work of financial intermediaries, who use their own personal networks and attributes, to sell insurance and other financial products to add security to individuals’ lives. This thesis contributes by drawing attention to the reliance in financial promotion of hybrids and arbitrage – these create profits and win-wins for organizations with different aims, but create hazards for individuals expecting fulfillment of one or the other aims, such as security vs. profits. The thesis also demonstrates the impact of colonial legacies shaping dominant ideologies and institutions, making them particularly receptive to neoliberalization and financialization.

    Research areas

  • financialization, finance, international political economy, political economy, promotion, promotional culture, governmentality, professionalism, financial education, financial literacy, universal pension, Hong Kong