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Great Process Over Past Five Years

On the evening when the Chinese men's football team qualified for the World Cup finals this year, many Chinese football fans cried and numerous residents swarmed into city squares in celebration, waving the national flag.

It was just one of many exciting events in China over the past five years.

When the China Mainland Research Company asked people "what were the two most exciting national events in the past five years?" altogether 73.7 percent of respondents mentioned Beijing's being chosen as the host of the 2008 Olympics, and 52.6 percent referred to China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"The survey shows Chinese urban residents have become increasingly confident in their nation," said a company spokesman.

Twenty-eight percent chose the entry of the Chinese men's football team into the World Cup finals as one of the top two events.

Other choices included the return of Hong Kong and Macao to Chinese rule, the implementation of the western-development strategy, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai, the introduction of more flexible requirements for those sitting the national college entrance exam, and the successful trial launch of the Shenzhou II (Divine Vessel II) spacecraft.

More than 85 percent of those interviewed said they believe China's international status has risen, and about 42 percent saw China's entry into the WTO as a symbol of that rise.

Another 27 percent of those interviewed said Beijing's being chosen as the host of the 2008 Olympic Games is a symbol of China's increased status.

Other symbols for those surveyed were the development of the national economy, the improvement in people's living standards, China's involvement in more international affairs, the entry of the Chinese men's football team into the World Cup finals, and the return of Hong Kong and Macao to Chinese rule.

With growing confidence in their nation, 28 percent of the Chinese urban residents interviewed said they believe China can "basically" succeed in hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, and another 66.6 percent said China can "definitely" succeed.

The survey also asked: "What were the two things that made you most happy in the past five years?"

Happiest Moments

The answers were largely traditional. About 21.4 percent said they were most happy when their children were successful in their studies, 19.9 percent said it was when they purchased houses they liked, and 18.2 percent when they found a good job.

The residents interviewed were also happy about: traveling, earning good money, having children or grandchildren, buying durable goods they wanted, finding nice boyfriends or girlfriends, buying a good car and getting married.

But some of the answers differ from those of five years ago. To most Chinese urban residents then, owning their own home and car was a distant dream.

The booming national economy has made many of the residents' dreams come true. China's gross domestic product has increased by more than 7 percent a year over the past five years, and the disposable income per capita reached 6,860 yuan (US$827) for Chinese urban residents last year, 33.5 percent more than in 1997.

"The survey shows the quality of Chinese urban residents' lives has been improving over the past five years," said the research company spokesman. "They have greater real incomes and a wider choice of goods at the market. They have changed how they consume and invest, and paid more attention to leisure activities," he said.

Earn More, Spend More

Of those interviewed, about 51.7 percent said their real income had increased "to some extent" over the past five years, and another 8.3 percent said their real income had increased "a great deal".

And 90.3 percent of those interviewed said there was a "very rich" or "quite rich" variety of goods at the local market.

Statistics from the China Mainland Research Company have also shown no shortage of supply in 600 major commodities during the first half of this year.

With more money and more choice at the market, residents have changed their spending patterns. The Engel Index of Chinese urban families was 46.4 percent in 1997, meaning that 46.4 percent of their expenditure went to food. The company predicted that this year's figure will be 35.5 percent.

The survey indicates that education or leisure activities now constitute the largest single item on which Chinese urban families spend their money.

Of those interviewed 34.7 percent said they spent the most on education last year. Most of this spending on education went towards their children's education locally, some people paid for their own studies, and a small proportion paid for their children to study abroad.

The survey report said: "The statistics show education is growing into a pillar industry in China, and more and more families are financially able to pay for their children's education abroad. The survey also shows the average age of Chinese overseas students is much younger than several years ago."

Another 32.1 percent of those interviewed said they spent the most on leisure activities last year. The survey shows that the most popular recreations among Chinese urban residents are watching TV, reading and playing computer games.

The preferred recreational activities also include playing cards, playing mahjong, going to karaoke bars and watching films.

A small proportion of residents go to wine-bars, keep pets, go dancing and watch live performances in their spare time.

The survey shows that the most popular sporting activities are walking, swimming, jogging and mountain climbing. Many urban residents also often play basketball, table tennis or football and go bowling often. They go to discos and take part in keep-fit activities in their neighborhood.

"Some 'noble sports' such as golf and equestrianism are emptying the pockets of Chinese urban residents. About 0.6 percent of those interviewed play golf regularly, and 0.1 percent practice equestrianism," said the survey report.

Traveling is another major leisure activity. Altogether, 13.8 percent of those interviewed said their largest item of expenditure last year was travelling within China or abroad.

While earning more and spending more, Chinese urban residents are also saving more. Of those interviewed, 43.7 percent said their financial assets had increased over the past five years, and 66.8 percent said they owned other valuable assets such as houses, cars, rare stamps, antiques or works of art.

When asked "are you satisfied with the overall construction of your city over the past five years?" altogether 65.9 percent of those interviewed said they were.

The residents who were most satisfied with the past five years' urban construction were those living in Shanghai in East China, Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province or in cities in western China such as Lhasa.

"Chinese residents have witnessed great strides in urban construction since 1997, with the rapid construction of real estates, roads and telecommunications infrastructure, an increased gas supply and an improved environment," said the survey report.

The survey shows there has been a boom in real-estate development as a result of reforms in the housing distribution systems. The per-capita living space at the end of 2001 was 20 square meters, 50 percent more than in 1997. Of the urban households surveyed, 77 percent were owner-occupiers, 43 percentage points more than in 1997.

The construction of roads and the telecommunications infrastructure has been proceeding quickly over the past five years. More than 57 percent of those interviewed said they were satisfied with road construction, and more than 76 percent said they were satisfied with the construction of telecommunications infrastructure.

"The survey indicates the telecommunications market in China is now a consumer market," said the survey report.

About 46 percent of the residents in the 31 major cities owned a mobile telephone at the end of 2001. In 1997, only 3.1 percent had a mobile phone, according to the research company.

About 56 percent of the residents interviewed expressed satisfaction with their gas supply. The supply of liquefied gas to urban households in China was 8 million tons in 2001, twice the amount in 1997.

As construction continues, great efforts have been made to keep cities green.

Of those interviewed, 50.9 percent said they were satisfied with the appearances of their cities. Those who expressed the greatest satisfaction were the residents of Kunming (capital of Southwest China's Yunnan Province), Shanghai and Beijing.

The survey asked: "Do you know the following terms: clone, Internet, e-mail, millennium bug and flash?"

Between 50 and 90 percent of those interviewed could explain the different terms relating to recent scientific developments.

"The survey shows public enthusiasm for science, which has been inspired by scientific achievements made in China since 1997," said the survey report.

The survey uses the popularity of computers as an index of the popularity of science. In the 31 major cities surveyed, 39.9 percent of those interviewed have their own computer. And 78.4 percent of the computer owners have their machine connected to the Internet.

Among the Internet users surveyed, 61.5 percent said they often search for information, 52.9 percent often read news on the Web, 41 percent send and receive e-mails, 30 percent regularly visit chat rooms, and 27.6 percent play Web-based games.

(China Daily October 17, 2002)