Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, November 21, 2002

A 'Xiaokang' Society Means Not Merely Money

The "Xiaokang", or literally a " Well-off ", society includes but far goes beyond a much better off material life.


The "Xiaokang", or literally a "Well-off", society includes but far goes beyond a much better off material life.

"We should avoid a conceptual trap in understanding the meaning of 'Xiaokang'," Lu Xueyi, a sociologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying by the Beijing-based Market Daily, a subsidiary newspaper of the People's Daily.

"A rapid economic growth by no means indicates that all social problems will be resolved naturally along the way."

The sociologist is trying to warn policy-makers of the inherited law of China's on-going social transition, which is not a simple equivalent of an economic better-off.

While addressing the Party's 16th National Congress held in Beijing on November 8 to 14, President Jiang Zemin, also the general secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC)'s 15th Central Committee, called Chinese readying themselves for an all-around "Xiaokang" life in 2020.

By then he said their per capita gross domestic product (GDP) will be around US$3,000, a quadruple of that in the year of 2000.

To reach the target, China needs only to keep an on average 7.2 percent of GDP growth till 2020, when the CPC will set about to celebrate its centennial birthday on July 1, 2021.

From 1978 when China started its opening-up and reform undertakings till now, it has sustained an on average around 9 percent growth rate per year.

Experts widely agree that China can maintain a 7 to 8 percent GDP growth for another 20 or even 40 years.

Big social transition rolling out
But during the past two decades, China has also experienced some ground-breaking social changes.

Instead of the starkly simplified social strata of workers and farmers, new social classes, for example private entrepreneurs, managers and staff in foreign-funded and domestic firms and artistic and business free-lancers, are coming out with increasing economic and political clout due to their piling wealth.

On the other hand, the workers and farmers, the CPC's two traditional cornerstones, are bearing the brunt of the profound social transformation: the threatened job security, the fragile social security guarantee, the insufficient education and training, and the blurred feeling of social justice and fairness.

Worse, with more social and moral values for Chinese to pick up, China now faces a tough challenge of producing a more persuasive and binding ideology to unite people's hearts.

Experts agree that China needs now more extensive and more profound institutional innovations to further its on-going market-oriented reform and finally crash some deep-seated problems.

"Following the economic development, China should set out to adjust its social policies to cast a reasonable social structure," Lu said, "without which the economic development will not sustain longer, and even pedal back despite the already-made progress," Lu said.

As an example, Lu mentioned experiences of Brazil, Argentina, Iran and some other developing countries.

These countries had ever boasted of a per capital GDP of over US$7,000 or even higher, but all the economic welfares greatly vaporized in face of some economic crises or political turmoil because of the lack of a sound social structure, Lu said.

Hammer out a stable social structure
As one urgent precaution, China should increase the size of the middle class in the society, he said.

"For this, China must first of all break down the mutually-separated economic structures between the city and countryside and change the existing household registration system," Lu said.

Although on the same land, China rural and urban economies traditionally seem to operate independently: In cities, one can find whatever glamour of a modern economy; in countryside, however, one sometimes can hardly access to the most basic economic infrastructure such as the steady electricity supply, hygienic drinking water, reliably usable highways and year-round TV and radio broadcasting.

Correspondingly, the existing household registration system divides Chinese families into two social groups: urban households with relatively better social security support, and rural ones which have to cope with their medical and old-age cares mostly on themselves.

The central government has launched a couple of pilot programs allowing farmers to change to urbanites, but progress remains quite limited, which turns out to be rather counterproductive.

To date, with a 70 percent of the whole population, China rural economy contributes less than 20 percent to the total GDP of the country.

"For one thing, farmers must have got the freedom to leave their farming land to cities to increase their income; for the other, more people should receive education, especially the higher education," Lu said. "Once having the higher education, one will automatically be able to ascend to the middle class."

To be considered as being "Xiaokang", Lu thinks the ratio of middle class in China's 1.3 billion population should be at least 38 percent instead of the present 18 percent.

By PD Online staff Forest Lee

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