MOST Chinese will attain a 'modestly comfortable living standard' before 2000, government statistics show. The prediction was based on the Engels Index, which compares family incomes to the cost of basic necessities like food and clothing. The Hong Kong China News Agency yesterday cited government figures which said the Engels Index for urban Chinese had dropped to 49.9 per cent, while the rating for rural residents had fallen to 58.8 per cent. A 60 per cent index figure puts people below the poverty line, while between 50 and 60 per cent qualifies as 'marginal sufficiency'. A modestly comfortable standard of living is defined as between 40 and 50 per cent. Any rating below 40 per cent is well-to-do or wealthy. The news agency report said the statistics showed that most urban Chinese now earned much more than they did four years ago. The average income of urban residents in 1994 reached 3,179 yuan (about HK$2,956), 129 per cent higher than the 1,387 yuan of four years previously. Purchases of poultry increased between 2.4 and 13.4 per cent in the same period. Televisions, air-conditioners and refrigerators have become 'must-have' appliances. Expenditure on these durable goods even exceeded the spending on food. As for farmers, their annual income in 1994 - 1,221 yuan - was more than double what they earned in 1985. Their expenditure on housing was 5.5 times higher than that in 1985 and reached 142 yuan.