left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Do you qualify as a white-collar worker?

Updated: 2012-05-16 16:59
( Xinhua)

BEIJING - Decent pay, a nice office and stylish dress have usually been considered the trappings of a white-collar worker. But in China, where the public widely picture the group as symbols of a quality and leisurely lifestyle, it seems having these credentials is not enough for someone to meet the country's modern social expectations.

To keep pace with consumer and employment developments, Chinese netizens recently came up with updated criteria for workers to be labeled white-collar. Much-discussed online in the past few months, the new requirements not only put entry to the club out of reach for most average earners, but have sparked discussion about Chinese society's rising affluence and the consequences of that trend.

Drafted in early 2012, the criteria state that to be a white-collar worker, one needs to earn a monthly salary of no less than 20,000 yuan ($3,169), own an apartment with at least two bedrooms and a car worth around 150,000 yuan.

The list immediately became a hot topic as many wage earners, despite their decent jobs and working environments, found themselves off the pace.

It inspired the Legal Evening News and Chinese recruitment website to conduct an online survey on the disparity. According to results published on Monday, only three of 562 interviewed office workers met all the requirements, while 22 said their salaries exceed the threshold.

"The first standard (20,000-yuan threshold) is enough to put me turns out that I have no 'collar' at all," said an entry posted on, the popular Chinese microblogging site.

The criteria, though lacking systematic social research and statistical analysis, to some extent reflects China's public opinions on the financial requirements of leading a relatively leisurely life amid soaring prices in almost everything.

Xia Xueluan, a professor of social psychology at Peking University, said the criteria showed there is a big gap between Chinese white-collars workers' expected salaries and reality, which put them in a constant state of insecurity and anxiety.

In some ways, the sensation created by the new standard reflects their call for more attention to be paid to such pressures, he said.

"Four years ago, people with an annual salary of 100,000 yuan were regarded as white collar. As I finally managed to earn that money, the standard has more than doubled," said a post written by "Tang Boxiaohu."

The complaint came as China's inflation in recent years has significantly eroded incomes and driven up living costs.

Last year, inflation went beyond the government's full-year target of 4 percent, hitting 5.4 percent, and only began to show signs of easing this year as regulatory efforts to slow the runaway prices gradually worked.

In sharp contrast to popular conceptions, most Chinese office workers crowd on to buses and subways to commute to work, and save every penny they can to cover the creeping price of shelter, food and transportation.

The mere requirement of owning a home was enough to keep many out of the newly defined group.

"I have a two-bed home, but it belongs to my parents," said Feng Ge, a bank client manager in Beijing, who earns 200,000 yuan a year but still falls well behind the standard.

Driven by rapid urbanization and property speculation, China's housing market has boomed in recent years, and houses -- ever more precious -- have become the focus of everyday talk and a most important measure of one's standard of living.

Meanwhile, white-collar workers are supposed to have enough spare time for entertainment and enjoy a low-carbon lifestyle, according to the widespread criteria.

"The addition of standards on lifestyle and quality of life is the outcome of more awareness among China's white-collar workers of health and happiness," according to Xia, who added that the government and enterprises should put serious thought into the implications behind the criteria -- the insecurity felt by office workers and their pursuit of happiness -- and pay more attention to the group.