China's new middle class control planet's future

Updated: 2011-08-13 10:22

By Kim Bowden (

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China is rapidly becoming a land of the rising middle class - and a force that will either tip or balance the scales on the environmental future of the planet.

Last week the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released their annual report on the country's urban development and, according to estimates, half of the country's city dwellers will be part of the middle class by 2023.

Based on data from 2000 to 2009, researchers calculated that 37 percent of city dwellers were part of the middle class in 2010.

That percentage is expected to surpass 45 percent in 2019 and exceed 52 percent in 2025, said Zhang Lifeng, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as reported by the China Daily.

Although the statistics back it up, you don't need them to realize the demographic of forward-thrusting Chinese cities is shifting - you can see it in the advertising billboards that flank the subways. Smiling young models sport the latest shoes, jeans and diamond rings, their flawless skin smoothed by international-brand cosmetics.

More Chinese have more disposable income.

Global businesses have been salivating at the possibilities for economic growth presented by the trend.

On Tuesday, McDonald's reported impressive quarterly sales figures in China despite price increases and said the market is one where they are expanding "aggressively", averaging a new restaurant opening everyday.

In a similar vein, earlier this month, Starbuck's president John Culver reportedly announced a goal of 1,500 stores across the country by 2015; China's up-and-comings look set to join their Western counterparts, who in hordes in recent decades ditched a simple instant brew for a frothed-milk-topped espresso, or any one of the myriad of coffee combos available at Starbucks.

In her recently released book "The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World's Largest Middle Class" China-born now US-based author Helen Wang agreed, saying China's burgeoning middle class is "jumping aboard the consumerism train and riding it for all it's worth".

During a talk to promote her book to a crowd of young urbanites at Beijing's trendy 798 art district, Wang's Chinese-delivered speech was peppered with English words and concepts.

"Walk-in closet", "the American dream", "own voice" and "self-centered", all roll of the tongue of the West's well-established middle class, but, as yet, it seems they do not feature in Chinese vocabulary.

On her website, Wang talked about the "new class of upwardly mobile young people, who have modern ambitions and a growing global consciousness".

This growing global consciousness has been illustrated in various social activism campaigns in China in recent years that have successfully halted unwanted urban development projects.

In 2010, for example, close to a thousand residents of Guangzhou took to the streets to protest against the building of a rubbish incinerator near their homes.

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