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Middle Class Grows in China As More Farmers Move to Cities

A growing number of Chinese will enter into the middle class in the following decade, earning decent income and enjoying comfortable houses, according to a report by the country's highest think-tank.

A surging number of managers, white-collar staff, entrepreneurs and intellectuals in China is expected to realize the dream within eight to 10 years in western and central China.

"During the coming era, more farmers will move to cities and China will create more knowledge-based jobs as the country is transforming itself into one of the world's leading economies," the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said in a recent report on trends in China's social classes.

Due to China's opening up and reform since the late 1970s, a small but rapidly growing and influential group of people, has sprouted in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. About 15 per cent of China's population of 1.3 billion has risen into the ranks of this group, according to the report.

People working in government and non-government organizations, managerial staff, technicians, skilled workers and office clerks are all classified as middle class in the research.

The report said the size of China's middle class is unsatisfactory and the number of farmers, 44 per cent of total population, is too big.

Now the group is expected to spread to central and western China.

CASS research team headed by sociologist Lu Xueyi based its prediction on China's economic development trend.

Research indicated that when per capita gross domestic products (GDP) in a region has topped benchmark 12,500 yuan (US$1,500), there will be a sudden need for managing staff, skilled workers and businessmen.

Statistics indicated that nine provinces and municipalities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Fujian have already surpassed the benchmark. In the coming 10 years, about 10 provinces such as Sichuan, Shaanxi and Hebei will also reach the target.

"Now the country should encourage the flow of urban migrants, lift barriers, and adapt to the trend," said the report.

Indeed, prosperity in today's China is far from universal. Hu Angang, a researcher with Tsinghua University said with surplus farmers and laid-off employees from State-owned enterprises flooding into major cities, the number of urban poor has been increasing. Among those remaining in the countryside, there are about 28 million farmers living still in absolute poverty.

"China is now at a new stage," he said. "That means winners and losers."

Winners are confident to climb the social ladder but losers fall behind.

Wang Fang, 34, and his wife came to Beijing a year ago from nearby Hebei Province looking for work. He found it, delivering goods on a motor scooter for about US$150 each month. The couple left their two children, aged 7 and 5, at home with their parents. Now Wang and his wife live in a one-room apartment that costs less than US$50 a month.

Wang's modest earnings were enough to buy an inexpensive colour television and a DVD player. But like so many others here, he knows the towering apartment buildings rise for someone else. "I will never be able to save enough money to afford an apartment," he said. "I think only the bailing (white collars) can afford to buy an apartment like that."

(China Daily  August 2, 2004)

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