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Survey Sheds Light on China's New Social Groups
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"New social stratum" is a phrase used to describe 50 million private entrepreneurs, small-business owners and managerial-level staff in private or foreign-funded enterprises, a cluster of individuals that have made important economic contributions to China. A recent online survey conducted by China Youth Daily and www.sina.com showed that although their contributions attracted public praise, many think it too early to determine whether these strata will have a permanent impact on China's social structure.

Of the 1,643 people surveyed, 58.5 percent thought the contribution was "very large" or "comparatively large." Chen Xiqing, deputy head of the CPC's Central Committee's United Front Work Department estimated that the members of this stratum oversee or own capital worth 10 trillion yuan (US$1.3 trillion), employ a workforce reaching 100 million, hold over half of the country's technical patents, are jointly responsible for close to a third of China's tax revenues and provide jobs for almost half of new job-seekers each year.

The concept of specific "social strata" dates back to the 60s when Chinese society was divided into five groups -- farmers, workers, intellectuals, cadres and soldiers, Chen interpreted this from a modern setting saying that "the current new stratum's members are mostly intellectuals and are disenfranchised from the traditional strata."

These 50 million are mainly well-paid and involved in non-state-owned sectors, Chen revealed, adding "most are not CPC members, but they have a continuously growing political awareness."

The results of the survey were as follows: 50.5 percent said that although they did not belong to this stratum, they thought highly of those who were, specifically that they had a high level of knowledge (46.5 percent), stood up for their rights (46.3), had enabled various reforms to have great benefits (43.2), are rich (42.4), and represent a new productive force (41.5 percent). Only 40.6 percent expressed reservations about the group's social function, since it lacked "a clear sense of jurisdiction."

Feng Shizheng, professor at Renmin University of China, said this stratum appeared to be interchangeable with common middle-classes at a cursory glance but that differences were present. "The composition of this stratum is very complicated. The portion of intellectuals is likely over-emphasized while that of private entrepreneurs is often given a relatively low importance."

Interestingly, while giving a high assessment of the stratum, 42.3 percent of those questioned would still sooner elect to work in government agencies, due to long-standing apprehension about the private sector.

The reason for this kind of belief is the immaturity of China's market system, explained Prof. Feng. "Market operation in China is still not sufficiently standardized and remains highly controlled or strongly influenced by the state. As a result, employment in new market sectors carries with it far greater risk than in government agencies or institutions. People trust the state more than the market."

(China.org.cn by Li Jingrong on June 22, 2007)

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