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What's the Real Income Gap

By Lan Xinzhen (Beijing Review)

07:58, February 07, 2013

A SWEETER LIFE: Shoppers select candies in a supermarket in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, on November 12, 2012. Urban residents' per-capita disposable income in the region grew by 14.2 percent year on year for the first three quarters of 2012 (ZHAO TINGTING)

"A journalist called me asking for comment on the macroeconomic figures released today. Am I crazy to say anything based on false facts? For the Gini coefficient, even fairy tales dare not be so bold."

This statement was written on January 18 by Xu Xiaonian, a famous Chinese economist and professor with the Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School, via Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog website. On that day, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released various figures on the country's economic operations in 2012.

Xu has more than 5.5 million followers online, many of whom are media insiders who quickly forwarded and shared his post. "Even fairy tales dare not be so bold" also became a popular phrase for scoffing at the authenticity of statistics.

This is the first time the NBS has released Gini coefficient figures since 2000. For years beforehand, it regularly revealed such information, but subsequently stopped because the "Gini coefficient is said to be unsuited to the conditions in China."

At a press conference on January 18, in addition to the Gini coefficient information for 2012, the NBS also released annual figures from as far back as 2003. Ma Jiantang, Commissioner of the NBS, provided no reason for the move, causing widespread queries. Whether the figures truly reflect income inequality among Chinese residents has become the focus of much argument.

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