Many westerners visiting cities like Beijing and Shanghai gain a completely false impression of China, because they see only small parts (usually the best parts) of these cities, and because they have absolutely no context for which to judge what they see. They see people driving cars and living in modest houses or apartments, and based upon their own personal frame of reference, assume that these people are typical middle class residents of China, and that therefore the Chinese people in general are doing well, or are even quite wealthy. What these visitors do not realize is that the people they are seeing truly do represent the 1%–they are the filthy rich. And, even in big cities, they make up a small minority.
To read the official Chinese government figures, look atAs noted there, the richest city dwellers in China make on average less than $10,000 a year, while a typical peasant (and rural peasants still make up about 80% of the population) makes about $1,500 per year. In short, China is still a poor country, even if its government and a handful of people are quite rich, and the worst of this poverty is seen in the countryside, where most western visitors never go.
Illustrative of the issues involved, this week a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference named Shu Hongbing, complained that “90% of Chinese peasants live As they did 40 years ago”. His comments were widely circulated on the Chinese social networking site NetEase (and translated by ChinaSmack). Here is an excerpt of the article:
Shu Hongbing continued, “We’ve talked about the problem of education in the villages of impoverished mountain areas all these years, and it has been more than just one CPPCC member who has raised these problems. I know that people are not equal from the moment they are born, but are we unable to make it a little more equal?” Shu Hongbing said passionately, “Their parents are out there [in other parts of the country] working, making contributions to society, returning home only when they are injured and disabled, while the village is filled with the old, feeble, sick, and disabled. At my school, I’m a deputy dean responsible for graduate students, and I ask why our doctorate students don’t go to the villages to do social investigations [sociological research], and write an investigation into [what has changed] over the past 30 or 40 years, investigating how these people are born, how they grow up, how they go to school, how they work, how they live, how they die from illness, and then they will be amazed to discover that are basically [living in the same conditions] as 30 or 40 years ago. Where have the fruits of the Reform and Opening Up gone? 90% of the peasants in our countryside are as they were in the past, not dying in hospitals, dying in their homes, because their households can’t afford the medical care. So I call for us to still do more to help the people at the lowest levels.” …
“I’ve always said that in our village, the changes of these past decades have had both positive and negative effects. Rural households in the mountainous areas, not many are whole and intact [members, usually young parents and small children are separated]. These 40 years happen to be where the changes in Chinese society have been the biggest, but go back to the rural countryside villages and take a look. Other than people having built two-story buildings, the insides are empty and vacant; they’re just two-story shells. Their quality of life–conditions of medical care and how their children go to school haven’t really changed. The younger generation has all gone out [left hometowns] to work, and those left in the villages are all the old, weak, sick, and disabled. Tell me where is the happiness in these families?”