Home>>Columnists >> Li Hongmei's column

Rich China or Poor China?

17:17, June 30, 2010

    Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum

By Li Hongmei

First, comes the good news, just like the standard practice of CCTV broadcasting --- China is expected to gain 8 trillion yuan ($1.18 trillion) in financial revenue by the end of 2010, announced its Monday news.

If that happens, China will become the second-largest country in terms of revenue income, trailing only the United States, according to CCTV report.

Then, comes a more heartening assumption that in 2040, the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion, or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000. With China's economic ascent, it is the other side of the story of the relative decline of a Europe plagued by falling fertility as its era of global economic clout finally ends, and an ailing US economy which takes years and pains to get over.

Indeed, there is no doubt that China has increasingly become the nascent engine house of the global economy with its continuous galloping growth for decades.

But this is not a complete picture portraying a true China, if you happen to see the legions of the Chinese poor-- shirtless rickshaw drivers, pensioners, unemployed workers in old industrial cities, barefoot construction workers, and skinny laborers who carry 40 bricks at a time that weigh 120 pounds. Most are farmers who don't earn much from cultivating the shrinking arable lands. And also don't forget those HIV- positive villagers in central Henan and Hubei Provinces who got infected by the deadly virus by selling blood regularly for livelihood.

At the sight of this, a question would naturally creep into your mind: Is China a rich or poor country? Or a rich country with still poor people ?

On the one hand, China's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 11.9 percent year on year in the first quarter of 2010 to 8.06 trillion yuan ($1.19 trillion), a good start to showcase China's rapid recovery from the global slowdown and its still robust economic dynamism, while on the other hand, millions of the poorest people in China live on less than $88 a year (2007). About 9 percent of the population lives in absolute poverty, compared to 15 percent in the Philippines and 50 percent in Vietnam.

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University described the extreme poor as people who "are chronically hungry, unable to get health care, lack safe drinking water and sanitation, cannot afford education for their children and perhaps lack rudimentary shelter—a roof to keep rain out of the hut—and basic articles of clothing, like shoes."

Perhaps, it is still too early to conclude what China is at the moment, as remarked by a foreign scholar, teaching at Beijing Foreign Studies University for nearly a decade, "China is many things at the same time." She said "it is like the first world, the second world and the third world co-exist together inside China."

Aware of the fact that the comprehensive national strength is not just defined by the hoard of national wealth but also by how much of the common good savored by its people from the economic growth, the Chinese leadership has already bent on devising ways to improve people's well-being so as to make people sense the tangible favor brought about by the social progress and economic development.

"Only by ensuring and improving people's well-being can we achieve a sustained economic development, a solid foundation for social progress and lasting stability for the country," said Premier Wen. He promised on various occasions to not only make the "pie" of social wealth bigger by developing the economy, but also distribute it well by adjusting the distribution of national income, deepening the income distribution reform in monopoly industries and cracking down on illegal income.

Considering the widening wealth gap and grim employment situation would hinder domestic demand growth, an important impetus for the country's desired growth model, he thereby highlighted in his report that a rational income distribution system should be the "important manifestation of social fairness and justice" and a major way to enhance domestic demand and narrow income gap.

As a matter of fact, China helps more people out of poverty than any other country in history. Since the policy of reforms in late 1970s, the number of people living in absolute poverty (unable to adequately feed themselves) has declined from one in four in 1978 to one in twelve today (less than 100 million people). The number of extreme poor has been reduced by 300 million.

Perhaps, for a developing China, some achievements are still beyond attainment. And it is still a long way to go for China to ensure the common social progress and the evenly distributed wealth and resources. Perhaps, even today, the ordinary Chinese people's purse does not look so proud as the state coffer boasts. Or perhaps, China is yet to be taken as a real economic power.

But, even viewed conservatively, China is on the way to its rise and ascendancy. Although in the process "challenge and opportunity always come together", as President Hu Jintao put it recently, a splendid tomorrow ahead is still discernible.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

Post your comments:

About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."