A family pushes a cart with vegetables at a supermarket in Beijing. (AFP)
A family pushes a cart with vegetables at a supermarket in Beijing. (AFP)

Chinese youth voice their anger at govt as inflation, inequality soars: Report

China was the only major economy to post positive growth last year, following a quick from the COVID-19 pandemic.
PUBLISHED ON FEB 15, 2021 09:45 AM IST

Despite China's booming economy, youngsters have taken to social media platforms like Bilibili to voice despair over skyrocketing house prices, widening inequality and rising prices of everyday goods in the country.

China was the only major economy to post positive growth last year, following a quick from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this figure fails to tell what political analysts have described as a 'serious divergence' between the booming economy and the personal prospects of ordinary people in China, writes Cissy Zhou for South China Morning Post (SCMP)

As China has few outlets to express opinions, platforms like Bilibili and Weibo have become important gathering places for distressed young Chinese.

According to E-House Real Estate Research Institute, China's housing price-to-income reached a 20-year high of 9.2 last year, which means that the average house price is over nine times the average income per household. This is happening despite repeated assurances from authorities that they would stabilise a price boom that started in 2008.

On the other hand, food prices had risen 1.2 per cent last year, with the cost of fresh meat increasing 7.1 per cent and the price of pork up 49.7 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Vegetable prices also rose dramatically in January, with green peppers, wax gourd and cabbage increasing by more than 30 per cent, informed the Ministry of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, public anger intensified on social media when central bank vice-governor Chen Yulu said that inflation is likely to see a "moderate growth" this year, wrote Zhou for SCMP.

"Moderate growth? So we are the boiled frogs, and you just keep heating!" said one person on Weibo.

"How can you glorify inflation in such a way? Moderate growth means doubling the prices!" said another Weibo user.

The optimism about China's economy on social media was mostly 'Communist Party propaganda, with many other topics out of bounds due to the nation's vast online censorship system, opined Wu Qiang, an independent scholar based in Beijing.

"The nationalism on Chinese media is a nihilistic statism, which is to conceal inequality through empty slogans without giving real equality and political rights to the people. This is reflected in the suffering people feel in their lives," he said.

He further commented that China's strong growth under state capitalism was a 'paradox' for many young people who lacked comprehensive labour rights and many work from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week.

China's private consumption accounted for about 39 per cent of GDP, which was about 30 percentage points lower than the US and Europe, as per data provided by CEIC.

According to SCMP, China's relatively low household incomes and small share of employment in the services sector also hint at the divergence between the country's booming economy and the life satisfaction of the average worker.

"This means although China produces a large number of goods and services every year, the share actually consumed by its own residents is much lower than in other countries," said professor Xi, from Fudan University.

Xi further said that his research showed the services industry made up a particularly low share of China's GDP - more than 10 percentage points lower than developing countries like India and Brazil.

Though the communist nation had declared that it had officially ended poverty at the end of last year, a sense of relative poverty is becoming severe, especially between cities and rural areas.

Meanwhile, Zhou reported that research published by Hao Qi at the School of Economics at Renmin University in November last year showed that the labour share of China's national income had declined from 51.4 per cent in 1995 to 43.7 per cent in 2008.

Xi informed that these figures highlight that investment returns are being concentrated in the hands of a few, and most workers are getting a lower share of GDP growth than those in developed countries.

"This brings us back to an old question in economics and political science: what is the ultimate purpose of our economic development?" he said.

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