More on Demystify China’s Middle Class

Since my last post about the definition of the Chinese middle class was considered “all too simple,” I dug out a comprehensive study: Emergence of the Chinese middle class and its implications. It’s a well-researched and well-documented research paper by He Li. The paper approaches the definition of the Chinese middle class from different angles such as lifestyle, income classification, occupation, and self-perception, and here is what it says:

Economists and sociologists have defined what they believe will compose the Chinese “middle class” of the future. They suggest that five categories of people will represent the middle class: scientific development entrepreneurs, Chinese managerial staff working in foreign firms in China, middle level managerial staff in state-owned financial intuitions, professional technicians in various fields, especially in intermediary firms, and some self-employed private entrepreneurs.  Continue reading

Demystify China’s Middle Class

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. Continue reading

The Chinese Are Coming

When I arrived at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in Menlo Park yesterday, the presentation had already started. Jane Jie Sun, the CFO of Ctrip – the Expedia equivalent in China, was giving an enthusiastic talk about the company’s success. The room was full of aspiring entrepreneurs, mostly Chinese, who are trying to catch a slice of China’s economic boom, or at minimum, to admire what others have achieved.

This is one of the events put on by HYSTA – an entrepreneurial association in Silicon Valley. Standing in the audience, I couldn’t help to be impressed. Just look at the following facts:

– China’s travel industry is growing double digits every year and there is no sign of slowing down due to the emergence of the middle class.

– Ctrip aggregated more than 80 % of a fragmented market, which was typically characterized by mom-and-pop hotels, and handles a daily volume equal to the volume one travel agent does in a year.

– The company’s revenue is growing at 50 % year to year, with a gross margin as high as 80 percent (whew, where on earth can you find a business like that?!).

Although Ctrip is a copycat of Expedia, it successfully adapted to China’s situation and provides the services that are “China unique.” For example, we already know about the call-center and free ticket delivery, but its “express service” is quite remarkable. In Beijing and Shanghai, because traffic is so bad and people cannot predict how soon they will get to the airport, Ctrip invented a service that allows people to call while riding their taxis to the airport, and issues the air ticket including boarding pass within one hour. Wall Street analysts said Ctrip is the only company in the world that is doing this.

Other things I have learned are: since 2006, GDP growth in the second-tier cities in China has surpassed that of first-tier cities. Recently, China relaxed visa restrictions for people to travel to the U.S. as tourists. It is predicted that by 2020, China will be the largest outbound travel country in the world. A minor point, it will certainly help the huge trade deficit between the United States and China.

A friend of mine told me that her sister, who works in IBM Beijing, travels every year, and each year to a new country. For the young Chinese middle class, travel to see the world is an essential component of their lives. Some consider it an important achievement in their lifetime. We will see the Chinese are coming.