People often ask me about the definition of the Chinese middle class. To me, it’s simple: the middle class are people who are not poor or rich, who have disposable incomes to consume, and who can follow their own dreams and pursue their own futures.
Yet there are many debates about the Chinese middle class. Some said China has only the new rich and the very poor; others argued that the middle class is an American concept and it doesn’t apply to China.
To make things simple, here is a definition from China’s National Bureau of Statistics: the households with an annual income ranging from 60,000 yuan ($7,250) to 500,000 yuan ($62,500) should be categorized as middle class.
A research team led by Professor Zhou Xiaohong in Nanjing University further defined the occupation of the middle class to be: professionals in management and technology, civil servants, and entrepreneurs, with college or above education.
If the “middle class” is an American concept, the Chinese are adopting it. With these two definitions, I believe the picture should be clearer about what the Chinese middle class would look like. They are consistent with my research and interviews with people in China.
I have to point out that there is even confusion about the term “middle class.” In an article “Myth of China’s new middle class,” the author argued the middle class in the West was evolved from bourgeoisie during the industrialization and “became more complex, producing managerial and professional classes,” and China’s “new rich categories of entrepreneurs are quite unlike the 19th-century European bourgeoisie in the extent to which they have emerged from and retain close relationships with the established political system.”
I don’t understand why the “new rich” has anything to do with the “new middle class” here. To make things more complicated, people in China actually consider “bourgeoisie” (??) to be lower than the middle class (??). Furthermore, to separate the government from people is also a “Western way of thinking.” Notice the occupations of the Chinese middle class include “civil servants,” – that means “the government officials.”
The Chinese middle class will not be the same as the Western middle class. How are they different? What impact will they have? These are the “myths” my book is going to unveil. Please stay tuned.