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Major Improvements in Living Standards in Past 5 Years
Gone forever are the days when three generations shared a shabby, crowded one-room house, and when mobile phones, cars and overseas trips were luxuries that most only dreamed of.

Although some are dissatisfied with their incomes, most Chinese are enjoying the dramatic changes in their lives produced during the last five years.

According to official statistics, the per capita disposable income of urban residents was 5,160 yuan (US$620) in 1997 and 8,000 yuan (US$964) in 2002. The net income of rural residents was 2,090 yuan (US$250) in 1997 and 2,400 yuan (US$290) in 2002.

The combined total of Chinese people's savings deposits in 2002 reached more than 8 trillion yuan (US$964 billion), up from 4.6 trillion yuan (US$455 billion) in 1997. Retail sales for 2002 amounted to more than 4 trillion yuan (US$481 billion), compared with 2.73 trillion yuan (US$329 billion) in 1997.

During the past five years, investment in housing construction increased by about 30 percent annually. The per capita floor space for rural residents had grown to 26 square meters by the end of 2002, while that for urbanites rose to over 20 square meters. At present, 80 percent urbanites have their own homes.

Mobile phones and personal computers became indispensable items for Chinese people in the last five years.

The number of phone users in China reached 420 million in 2002,an increase of 336 million from 1997. Meanwhile, China's Internet users numbered 59.1 million, second in the world.

Abundant vegetables and fruits can be seen in newly built supermarkets during the four seasons, and once rare and unidentifiable imported fruits and vegetables have arrived on the tables of ordinary people.

In the last five years, Chinese per capita consumption of meat, eggs, aquatic products and vegetables surpassed the world average. The number of green foods cultivated reached over 2,000 in 2002, up 20 percent from the 1998 figure.

Compared with about 400,000 sets in 1997, China's automobile output exceeded 1,090,000 in 2002, and the number of imported cars reached 130,000 in 2002.

Entertainment and travel became integral parts of Chinese people's daily lives in the five years.

Chinese enjoy seven-day holidays for the May Day Holiday, the National Day Holiday and the Spring Festival Holiday since 1999, which has resulted in a boom in China's travel industry. Their spending on non-food items increased by nearly 10 percent during the period from 1997 to 2002.

China invested heavily in the building of communications networks in the five years. Compared with 4,000 kilometers in 1997,China had over 20,000 kilometers of highway by 2002, second in the world.

Investment in railway construction in the five years reached 27.80 billion yuan (US$3.35), while the number of flight routes rose from several hundred to over one thousand.

Chinese are enjoying more freedom in traveling abroad, especially after China's entry into the World Trade Organization. The number of Chinese citizens traveling overseas was 5 million Chinese in 1997 and became more than 10 million in 2002. China established about 1,500 non-financial enterprises overseas between1998 and 2002.

China's universities enrolled 3.2 million students in 2002, compared with 1.08 million in 1998. The number of private schools in China doubled between 1998 and 2002, rising to over 50,000.

Against the backdrop of rapid economic growth, China is facing increasingly difficult ecological challenges, which have drawn the attention of both the government and ordinary citizens. In the past five years, China took unprecedented measures with regard to ecological problems and achieved huge progress.

Also during the five-year period, China's investment in environmental protection reached 490 billion yuan (US$59 billion), an amount 1.7 times the figure from 1949 to 1997. China also invested about 70 billion yuan (US$8.4 billion) in the forestry industry, an amount equivalent to the total amount for the 1949-1999 period.

(Xinhua News Agency February 28, 2003)

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