She is now a product development manager at Alibaba.com, China's biggest online trading site, and her husband is a software engineer at another Chinese Internet success story, Kaixin001, a Facebook-style site. Unlike their parents, says Liu, "I can either stay with this company or find a job at another one. I am totally free to do that."
Those jobs earn the couple about $30,000 a year between them – not much by Western standards, but twice the average salary in Beijing and five times the national average in China. Recently they went on their first holiday abroad – a trip to Singapore organized by Liu's employer – but most of their spare money goes to car payments, and they do not indulge in luxuries like fancy clothes, preferring jeans and T-shirts, which allows them to save a little each month.
By most yardsticks, they are a middle-class couple – beneficiaries of the economic boom driven by China's state-dominated capitalism. A range of different sorts of white-collar people – entrepreneurs, employees of large state-owned enterprises and multinational companies, party and government officials, lawyers, doctors, and teachers – make up the middle class. By those criteria, these 300 million Chinese (25 percent of the population) are middle-class. The international consulting firm McKinsey & Company forecasts that by 2025 those numbers will have more than doubled to constitute 40 percent of the population.
But Liu and Xu do not think of themselves like that.
"We are better-paid working class," says Liu, for whom only an annual income of $150,000 would put someone in the "middle class" bracket, able to enjoy all the material perks he associates with that status. "I dream about that day and night," he adds with a laugh.