February 22, 2007


China's Widening Income Gap: With city-dwellers now earning 3.2 times what rural residents do, workers are demanding more rights--and Beijing is starting to worry (Dexter Roberts, 2/16/07, Business Week)

Why does Beijing care about inequity? One obvious reason is that it is sparking social unrest. Protests by workers angry about unpaid wages and farmers concerned over land seizures by local governments have helped fuel the estimated 87,000 major protest incidents that occurred in 2005, up from only 11,000 a decade before, according to China's Public Security Ministry.

"When a country has such high disparity it cannot sustain social stability," says Li Ping, chief representative of the Beijing office of the Rural Development Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that focuses on rural land issues.

To show Beijing's concern about widening social inequity, Premier Wen Jiabao on Feb. 6 met with a group of farmers, construction workers, and unemployed laborers. The purpose: to get their input before he presents the government's annual work report at the upcoming March Congress.

"It is [a government] of the people, for the people, and by the people. This is our objective," said Wen according to official news agency Xinhua following the meeting.
Little Enforcement

It's noble goal in principle, but all too often pretty words like Wen's don't translate into any real policy change. Meanwhile, new regulations often don't get implemented fully in the far reaches of China.

"Even when China has very good laws, implementation lags far behind," says RDI's Li Ping. Adds Kent D. Kedl, executive director of Shanghai-based business consultancy Technomic Asia: "They talk about the law, then they issue the law. Then it is another two or three years before it is finally enforced, and then only selectively."

The problem is, Beijing may not have that time to spare. Already China's richest 10% of the population owns 40% of all private assets, while 2% of total wealth goes to the bottom tenth, according to a survey released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in January. With stark differences like that, it's no wonder income disparity increasingly is seen as the most pressing issue for the mainland.

Ironically, those problems will ease and greater input from the people will be possible only after China has been destabilized and broken into smaller states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 22, 2007 7:47 AM

China has a 4000 year history of consolidating under central control, absorbing invasions from the west and south, disintegrating, reconsolidating. Centuries-long waves of this rhythm.

Posted by: Molon Labe at February 22, 2007 9:13 AM

the tide has been ebbing for most of that time. They were once a significant culture but have been a backwater for centuries.

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2007 12:56 PM

Two Chinas? Edwards should ride to the rescue.

Posted by: jdkelly at February 22, 2007 2:39 PM


Good one - I can see him now (in his closing) - "Imagine you are a construction worker, as the sub-standard concrete wall collapses on top of you, crushing, flattening, and killing you - all because the regional governor stole some of the rebar".

Posted by: ratbert at February 22, 2007 3:46 PM