Middle-Class Self-Identity in Beijing

Actually, the translated article is really about how three apparently middle-class Beijing families do not regard themselves as middle-class.  Once they get beyond worrying about getting the basic necessities, they look at leisure time as the definitive criterion for middle-class, and that is beyond them at this time.

(Wen Wei Po)  By Liu Ningzhe (劉凝哲).  February 16, 2005.


According to a study done by some Americans, the middle-class in Bejing is defined as having 780,000 RMB or more in annual household income.  This was challenged by some mainland Chinese scholars who believe that the middle-class standard can be reached with an income between 80,000 to 400,000 RMB.

Based upon this standard, our reporter interviewed three Beijing families.  During the process, our reporter discovered that these families which were marked as 'middle-class' do not identify themselves with this defintion.  Their most common notion is that "we are too busy working that we cannot experience the leisurely lifestyle of the middle-class."

Xiao Yan (蕭妍) is a native Beijing girl working at an advertising company.  She has been working for five years, and she makes about 200,000 RMB now.  She owns a 120 square meter apartment and a Volkswagen Golf car.  Xiao Yan received her education at a famous university, and she has artisitic qualities.  Her parents are wealthy and have good social standing.

Xiao Yan's favorite pet is a pure-bred cat, which she purchased for 16,000 RMB.  "Each month, I have to spend a few hundred dollars on essential care for the cat," she said.  Although her income and residence have reached the middle-class standards, she denied it vehemently: "I am not middle-class."  Due to the pressure and special nature of her work, she does not experience the stability of the middle-class.  She thinks that even though the job pays well, she does not have a high social position and she does not have a social identity.

She also said that the most important thing about the middle-class is stability.  But her work is definitely unstable, and "instability means lack of income."  She said, "Although my income and lifestyle have reached the middle-class standard, my subjective feeling and social position do not belong to this class."  Xiao Yan told the reporter: "I would rather people say that I belong to the generation of newly rich."

Zhang Hongkai (張弘凱) just got married last year, and they both work at an architectural design company.  Their annual income is about 250,000 RMB, they own an apartment in Beijing and they have a car.  When our reporter brought up the subject of middle-class, the couple shook their heads quickly: "We can't be counted as such.  We are barely above being hungry and cold."  This did not seem reasonable, but the couple explained that even though they seem to make a lot of money, they work very hard and half of their salary goes to the mortgage, automobile installment payments and various insurance policies.

"The pressures of life are so big.  Where do we have the leisure to be middle-class?  Even David Beckham thinks that he is a proletariat.  So it would be a joke if we are middle-class?"  They think that they may appear to make a lot of money, but they work very hard and their expenditures are high, so they live a hectic life without any sense of the leisure of the middle-class.  In the eyes of the Zhang couple, a middle-class family ought to have two apartments, and two or more cars.  "An annual household income between 80,000 to 400,000 RMB is probably only the standard for being a well-off family," Zhang said.

The Wang Chao (王超) family of two earns about 400,000 RMB per year and they own several apartments and two cars.  They think that they are only a lower-middle class family.  They don't think that the middle-class is a class as such in Beijing.  At most, it is a social stratum, and they are currently located in the bottom layer of this middle-class stratum.

They enjoy going to shop in Hong Kong.  "Bascially, we go to Hong Kong twice a year to shop.  We buy all the things that we need in Hong Kong because the quality of goods is superior in Hong Kong."  They also like to travel.  They have basically visited all the scenic sights in China and the surrounding countries.  They want to travel to Europe right now, but they don't want to go with a tour group.

Concerning the pressures of life, the Wang couple said that the so-called middle-class in Beijing is under a lot of pressure.  Mr. Wang said, "In order to maintain the current good life, it is necessary to work even hrader.  The pleasure and leisure of the American middle-class in the lore is something that I can only dream about."