Report on wealth of mainland Chinese creates a credibility gap

Amid rising costs, bureau's idea of what constitutes a high income on mainland is greeted with a large dose of scepticism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:00am

Figures on the wealth of mainlanders just released by the National Bureau of Statistics - the first report of its kind in a decade - have been met with incredulity and a large dose of sarcasm in the press and blogosphere.

Few quibbled with the report's rather precise figures, such as city dwellers last year earning an average annual disposable income of 29,547 yuan (HK$37,563). And there was no argument that those earning less than 11,434 yuan were low-income. What was laughable to many was the notion that 56,389 yuan a year could be considered a high income in today's modern cities.

Readers were no doubt pleased that the nation's alarming income gap was showing signs of narrowing thanks to a slight decline last year in China's Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality.

But, as a China Youth Daily editorial pointed out, someone earning 56,000 yuan a year would be living hand-to- mouth if they were paying off a loan on modest flat in a second-tier city such as Nanjing.

"That amount is roughly what I pay for my mortgage in a year," the author wrote. "How did toiling for the bank without food or drink come to be considered 'high income'?" The general reaction showed that most people's definition of high income was substantially higher than the statisticians', the editorial said.

The New Express wrote that 56,000 yuan could be considered a high income if that was what remained in a bank account at the end of the year after all living expenses had been paid. It added, mockingly: "In fact, people in this country live blissfully as long as we don't factor into the equation the prices of food, fuel and housing."

Guangdong's Yangcheng Evening News called for a sober look at the study because the way it divided the country into five income groups hardly displayed the true income disparity felt by most people.

It added that the discrepancy between people's perceptions and the data used to be wider when the bureau only released the average urban income. So grouping people into five income categories presented a more realistic picture.

While nobody wanted to argue with the statistics, the Beijing Evening News said, the fact that so many average earners could not afford schooling or to get sick, let alone buy a home, added poignancy to the figures. Behind all the sarcasm lay genuine fears about the lack of protection against rapid rises in the cost of living.

The paper also suggested that the mainland's onerous taxes be lowered, given that vast public funds had supposedly been saved by the crackdown on officials' receptions, vehicles, overseas trips and other luxury spending. "After all, it is rather peculiar that those making more than 56,000 yuan a year are considered high-income," the writer said.

The Global Times - affiliated with the official People's Daily - said the public's discontent had been acknowledged, and that narrowing the income gap was a government priority. But a wide gap was to be expected in developing countries, where entrepreneurs acted as the country's growth engine and naturally accumulated wealth faster than others.

The China Daily highlighted "some progress" in narrowing the rich-poor divide, given that the Gini coefficient had eased from 0.491 in 2008 to 0.473 in 2013 (a higher number indicates greater inequality) which showed that "the inclusiveness of the country's economic growth is increasing".

The Shanghai Daily, however, noted that the income gap in China remained well above the warning level of 0.4 set by the United Nations.

Shanghai-based financial news portal East Money urged the government to take the public's self-deprecation seriously and to consider ways to raise incomes so that more people could enjoy the fruits of the nation's growth.

One way to do that, it said, was to cap senior executives' pay at state-owned companies.