Hong Kong — Less than a decade ago, Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, was granted an exclusive audience with China’s then-President Hu Jintao, a rare honour. State television lauded the September 2010 meeting, saying Hu lavished praise on the tycoon for contributing to the city’s prosperity and stability.

These days, as Hong Kong reels from months of violent demonstrations, China’s government is weaving a much harsher narrative around the billionaires who dominate the business and politics of the city. In recent weeks, it’s linked them to the rising inequality it blames for the social unrest, a new stance that threatens the close ties Hong Kong dynasties have forged with Beijing...

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