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In China, middle-class affluence, not political influence

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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.

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