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Overheard inside the world's new No 2 economy

If you happen to live in Beijing, you may often forget that you're living in the capital of the world's new second-largest economy. Reshma Patil writes.

world Updated: Aug 20, 2010 01:11 IST
Reshma Patil

If you happen to live in Beijing, you may often forget that you're living in the capital of the world's new second-largest economy.

The most common reaction when I break the news to the Chinese — the news spread faster outside China — is an incredulous look. Then they ask, zhen de ma? Really? Hosting the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was a greater source of pride.

The most interesting reaction I received came from a a young Chinese CEO who started his own company a year ago. "We hate the Japanese," he blurted, before checking himself.

When Chinese professionals socialise, they have more elaborate opinions on the rising cost of living for migrants in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, the impossible dream of owning an apartment, and the flashy lifestyle of the 'second-rich generation,' the BMW-driving children born rich to the 'first-rich generation' parents who became successful after China's economic reforms began 32 years ago.

Single women talk about finding a nice husband —a man living in his own apartment without parents —because the one-child policy generation is reeling from the cost of supporting retired parents and in-laws.

The new title uncomfortably put the limelight on China's rising income inequalities and per capita income ranked 124 by the World Bank in 2009.

Chinese netizens have posted comments wondering how a 'developing nation' can overtake Japan. At a glance, the forums buzz with more views on personal hardship than national glory.

Beijing issued an official reaction to the achievement on Tuesday. Commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian reminded us 'China remains a developing country' with over 40 million below its official poverty line.

"Clearly, for political reasons it's convenient to declare most of the time that China's a developing nation," Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Dragonomics, told HT in Beijing.

China is more eager to hold on to another second rank. Beijing has refuted an International Energy Agency claim that China guzzles more energy than the US. China insists it remains the world's second-largest energy consumer.

But, as the pollution thickens, Beijingers are talking about when they'll see a blue sky.