A Rich Country With Poor People
|Jun 26, 2009|
Here is my translation of the commentary:-
"Many netizens have been thrilled by a news report saying that this year China’s GDP will surpass that of Japan. Some academics even predict that in 20 years, China’s GDP will overtake that of the United States to rank first in the world. The catch is that these glamorous statistics fail to cover up the fact that the rich and the poor are polarized.
A few days ago, Politburo member 蔡繼明 quoted a report issued by the authorities that says presently 0.4 percent of China’s population controls about 70 percent of the country’s wealth – the degree of wealth concentration is higher than in America. In other words, the remaining 99.6 percent of China’s citizens share only 30 percent of its wealth. In terms of GINI Coefficient, China’s figure is already above 0.5 – in Asia she ranks just behind Nepal and the Philippines, and is ahead of all European countries.
The description ‘Cities are like Europe and villages are like Africa’ is perhaps the truest portrait of China’s wealth inequality. Indeed, Chinese cities give the impression of prosperity and affluence: tall buildings everywhere with imposing facades and grandiose décor, plush office buildings, and vast public squares. When one speaks of change, no phrase is more frequently used than 'newer by the day and month' (日新月異).
But in the vast expanse of villages, hordes of peasants still live below the poverty line and they struggle excruciatingly to earn enough to feed and cloth themselves. There is a village in Hebei province named 贊皇縣許亭鄉田村 that’s located 300 kilometers from Beijing. Despite its being called ‘a village of bountiful rice and fish’, there is no lack of men who cannot afford to get married. The reason is that with the meager income from growing crops, a man would have to work for 200 years before he can earn enough to get married. Compared to the cities’ 'newer by the day and month', the villages can only be described as lifeless.
Yet, according to official statistics, those living below the poverty line are only of an insignificant minority: only a few tens of millions. The fact is that the criteria used by the authorities to define poverty line are far below those used internationally. For example, Guangdong already ranks the world’s 14th in terms of GDP, but then it still uses 750 Renminbi per capita, which is the national figure, as its poverty defining line. And so, the province’s poverty line is lower than that of Vietnam by 20 percent and that of Mongolia by 55 percent. Using such a low standard, no wonder it seems there are not many poor people in China.
The extreme concentration of wealth has given rise to a Chinese-style oligarchy. The oligarchs, through a system of government-entrepreneur collusion and special privileges, have amassed unequal wealth. They carry numerous passports and their assets are spread around the world, having meticulously planned for a later retreat. According to statistics, the number of China’s billionaires is second only to that of the United States. China is also a country that has recorded the fastest growth in luxury goods sales in the world. The degree of profligacy of the wealthy Chinese has indeed stunned many Europeans and Americans.
On one side there is hunger and destitution, while on the other there is reckless squandering and extravagance. The gap between the rich and the poor is so abysmal that any chance of closing it seems remote. Those oligarchs who got rich through corrupt means are particularly loathed by the poor majority. In recent years, this kind of ‘hate-the-rich’ mentality has steadily spread in society and generally reflects people’s reactive mood.
Polarity of the rich and the poor has plunged the entire society into an agitated mental state – a small spark is enough to ignite a big fire. The recent incident in Hangzhou where a rich youngster killed a university graduate pedestrian while speeding in his race car is one example. As a developing nation, China has accumulated enviable wealth by world standards. But its ordinary citizens’ livelihood is similar to that in African countries. There is little to be boastful about."