Widening inequality has sparked fears of social unrest by senior members of China's "Communist" Party. Angry citizens say the wealthy sons and daughters of party cadres and rich businesspeople have unfair advantages in life, while experts warn of social instability as the gap between rich and poor widens.
In two separate online surveys in 2010 by People's Daily, the Communist Party's official mouthpiece, respondents ranked the growing divide between rich and poor as one of the most pressing issues facing the country. They said that despite China's tremendous economic growth, they barely registered any improvement in their own lives. Forty-four per cent of respondents said the widening income gap and "social classes division" required the most attention from the government.
"Is China wealthy? It might be. But after the financial crisis, the rich people in China are even richer, while the poor are poorer. Only the rich live a happy life, not the poor," one respondent said. For many young people today, avenues toward upward mobility are cut off, while the rich and powerful are not only able to afford the best schools, but also use their parents' connections and relationships - or 'guanxi' - to obtain the best jobs as well.
People's Daily reported that China's gini coefficient, an index that measures inequality, sits at 0.47, not far from the 0.5 marker that is seen as a risk of social instability. The paper noted that decades of economic growth have resulted in major wage gaps between rich and poor, urban and rural. By 2009, the richest 10 per cent of Chinese controlled 45 per cent of the wealth, while the poorest 10 per cent has just 1.4 per cent.
"In education, recruitment, employment and various other sectors, the pattern of power-retention by the powerful is solidifying, yet the rights of the lower classes often suffer encroachment. The hardening of the hierarchy is right before our eyes. The channel of upward mobility for the lower classes is narrowing by the day," wrote Dai Zhiyong, a columnist for Southern Weekend newspaper.
But Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, says the "fundamental solution" to improving the plight of the poor is to allow workers the right to organise their own unions - "to let them speak out what they really want to say in order to enhance their social positions".