Who are China's middle class?

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Are you middle class?

The definition of middle class in China is very vague. According to a survey by China Newsweek, 70 percent of the interviewed "middle class" selected based on their occupations, incomes and educational backgrounds do not admit that they are in this category.

However, 68.8 percent of the surveyed think the number of middle class in China is increasing. Who and what are middle class? Why do so many "middle class" people not welcome the term?

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According to Pei Zhenhua, the manager of Zhongshida Packaging Co., Ltd., for the middle classes the goal of life is to realize his or her own value. He believes members of the middle class should at least have a car, their own apartment and savings six times their income. Their parents should have jobs. They can travel a lot, every year they have vacations. They can also afford to take part in leisure activities such as watching movies and often having dinner in a restaurant.

But, there are very few people with these living standards. The survey found that most of the Chinese equate middle class to what is actually upper class.

The National Bureau of Statistics released a survey result in 2005 which stated that the urban middle class should have a yearly income between 60,000 yuan and 500,000 yuan. This is the first time in China that the "middle class" was defined clearly with a number.

But, this figure does not reflect the whole country. Those with a yearly income of 60,000 yuan may be middle class in western provinces such as Qinghai or Xinjiang but in Beijing or Shanghai, 60, 000 yuan is very basic.

The middle classes in big cities often accumulate vast debt to pay for their apartments. They are afraid of taking time off work for illness as they fear they may lose their jobs. The middle class is fragile since the social security system is far from perfect.

Dean of Social Science School of Nanjing University Zhou Xiaohong believes that the middle classes in East Asian countries and regions such as China, Japan or Chinese Hong Kong's cannot live like those in the U.S. This is apparently because of the high populations, limited arable land and other related elements.

Therefore, Zhou gives his three standards. Firstly, they should have a monthly income at least 5000 yuan. Secondly, they should work as the owner, manager or technician in companies or public institutions. Thirdly, they have received university education. The middle class is a group of common people and they are a large group between the rich and the poor.

According to Pei Zhenhua, the term middle class also refers to a distinct state of mind. Their knowledge and economic status make their value and their attitude towards life more recognized by the society.

Zhou concluded that Chinese society does not provide adequate opportunities for people to realize their dreams. A fast-changing society will reduce people's happiness. People keep raising their expectations and once the reality does not live up to their anticipations, they feel frustrated. That's why most of the "middle class" are not happy and do not agree with the term.

The survey was carried out in December 2009 among 1658 residents whose incomes were higher than average in their cities in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Wuhan, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Xi'an and Lanzhou.

(The Chinese version of the story was published in the latest issue of China Newsweek, and was translated and edited by Chen Chen.)

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