From the Expats

New leadership determined to reduce income disparity

By John Lydon (China Daily)
Updated: 2013-03-18 00:04

I live in an enclave of hotel buildings for long-term residents set amid a patchwork of folk communities. My neighbors are mostly Chinese professionals who have come to the capital for a few weeks on business.

Business is good, very good. The parking lot outside my building stands full of expensive-looking SUVs and sedans.

On the edge of the lot is a mom-and-pop store, and jutting from the side of the building is an overhang that shelters about 3-square-meters of sidewalk from the weather. The shop owner leaves his empty crates and boxes there.

There's an elderly trash scavenger who uses that space as a staging point. He stops there most days, rain or shine, to collapse and sort the boxes into manageable piles. Then he heaps them together with scraps of plastic, glossy magazines, jagged metal panels, and broken chairs and lamps he collected elsewhere, secures them on the back of a tricycle and heads to his next stop.

He too seems to have plenty of business, but judging from his clothing, gnarled hands and deeply lined face, it's a hardscrabble existence.

The disparity between people who are well-to-do and others who are just getting by can be seen all around the capital. And the city is like a microcosm of the nation.

Over the past 10 years, China's economy has expanded exponentially. Vast fortunes have been made. According to Hurun Report, a publishing group that documents wealth, China is the home of 317 dollar billionaires, second only to the United States, which has 408.

On the other side of the coin is poverty, which is more concentrated in rural China. According to the central government, about 10 percent of rural Chinese, some 99 million people, are "destitute", which is defined as having an annual net income of less than 2,300 yuan ($370).

These examples represent the extremities of a disparity between rural and urban incomes.

The more general reality is that through government efforts, from 2006 to 2011, rural incomes have grown largely apace with urban incomes, but the rural incomes remain about one-third of the urban, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In rural China, the average net income in 2011 was 6,977 yuan, almost 18 percent more than the previous year. The average urban income went up by about 14 percent to reach 21,810 yuan.

The central government has given priority to increasing incomes and has placed particular emphasis on reducing rural poverty. Considerable achievements have been made. In 2012, programs throughout rural China succeeded in lifting 23 million people from the "destitute" level.

The government's goal is to create a "moderately prosperous society" by 2020, former premier Wen Jiabao said at the Communist Party of China's National Congress in November. "On the basis of making China's development much more balanced, coordinated and sustainable, we should double its 2010 GDP and per capita income for both urban and rural residents," he said.

It was at that national congress, that then Vice-President Xi Jinping was appointed leader of the CPC, and shortly after he set out on tours of rural impoverished villages.

Reducing income disparities and alleviating poverty are noble goals that China has the economic vitality and political will to take on. The previous leaders, former president Hu Jintao and former premier Wen Jiabao, set the course. Judging by their visits with the rural poor and their words, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are determined to see it through.

John Lydon is deputy copy desk chief at China Daily. He can be contacted at