MIDDLE CLASS IN CHINA
There are between 100 million and 150 million people in the middle class. The Chinese middle class has grown at phenomenal rate since the end of the Mao era. The group didn't even exist in the 1970s and now it is comprised of 64 million people, according to a MasterCard survey in 2002. In the survey middle class was defined as a household earning more than $5,000 a year, a level regarded as high enough to buy a car or think about purchasing an apartment in China. The middle class is expected to expand to 600 million by 2020.
Definitions of middle class vary. One marker is an income above $10,000. Others say it is a household that owns an apartment and a car, has enough money to eats out and take vacations and is familiar with foreign brands and ideas.
Some define middle class in China as people earning more than $3,000 a year. As of 2002, there were around 100 million Chinese who fit this description and their numbers were increasing at a rate of about 20 percent a year. The income of the he top 10 percent of urban dweller rose from around $1,200 a year in 1995 to $4,600 in 2005.
Less than 5 percent of the population earns that much. Only 15 million make more than $32,000 a year. Roughly 500,000 Chinese earn $64,000 a year or more, but it is hard to say for sure because hard figures are hard to come by. Among those that fall into this group are top bureaucrats, factory managers and land developers.
The Communist party has given its tacit approval to the emerging middle class as a positive aspect of modernization. Some outsiders see the creation of a middle class as a key step towards creating a democracy. See Democracy
The Chinese middle class perhaps has been the greatest beneficiary of China’s economic boom. Francis Fukuyama, professor of international studies at Johns Hopkins, wrote in the Japanese newspaper the Daily Yomiuri, In the years since Tiananmen Square, “ the Chinese middle class has been largely coopted by the regime, which allowed it to expand and get rich with extraordinary speed.”
Links in this Website: FAMILIES, MEN AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; URBAN LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DRIVING AND OWNING A CAR IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HOME LIFE AND POSSESSIONS LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EVERYDAY LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HOMES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; Book: Pianos and Politics in China by Richard Curt Kraus is about middle-class cultural taste
Members of the Middle Class in China
Shanghai suburb The Chinese middle class is comprised of businessmen, writers, doctors, lawyers, employees of foreign companies, professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and intellectuals. Many of these people openly label themselves as middle class. This is a far cry from the old days when being labeled bourgeois was one of the worst things that someone could be called.
A largest chunk of the middle class is made of government workers who continue to make comfortable salaries and receive various perks such as subsidized apartments or houses, which they pay very little for. The money they earn is either saved or spent on things like televisions, household appliances and education for their children. A car or an overseas vacation would eat a large share of their income. Some government workers supplement their income with bribes, “fees” or hurry up money.
A typical middle class couple is made of an engineer husband and a wife that works in real estate. Together they earn $10,000 and live in a $37,000 condominium. Their wedding at a nice hotel, including lunch for 150, cost $4,000. Their dream is to own a “really good car...within 10 years.”
A middle class household in Shanghai that earn $18,000 a year lives in a three bedroom apartment, furnished with foreign brand-name furniture, owns a Volkswagen Bora, eats out twice a week, uses their air conditioner all summer and bought their 12-year-old daughter a $250 Panasonic cell phone.
A typical young, up-and-coming middle class woman works as an editor for an entertainment weekly, earns about $1,000 a month, spends her free tine in shopping malls and trendy new restaurants and dreams of owning a car and a house. People earning more than $32,000 a year can live in a nice suburban townhouse or home, vacation in Thailand or Europe and drive a Buick.
Middle Class Consumption in China: Disposable incomes and consumption rates are expected to grow by about 18 percent a year, compared with just 2 percent in the United States.
Middle Class Life
Changsan minivan David Pilling wrote in the Financial Times, For many middle-class city dwellers...today’s China is a fantastic adventure, a lunge into a world of previously unimagined possibilities. Even among the generation that lived through the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, this is widely regarded as the most optimistic time to be alive in China in hundreds of years. [Source: David Pilling, Financial Times, June 10, 2011]
Zheng, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who died in the 2011 Wenzhou train crash, “promised me a good life," his wife Wang Hui said. Bloomberg reported: “The couple vacationed at beach resorts on Hainan Island, off China’s southern coast, and visited Beijing to see Tiananmen Square. Two years ago, Zheng bought a black Buick luxury sedan. When a daughter arrived, they nicknamed her Tangtang, or Sweetie, and Wang became a stay-at-home mom. [Source: Bloomberg News, September 18, 2011]
Zheng and Wang exemplify China’s economic transformation. Hailing from Xuzhou in northern China, Wang moved to the southwestern coastal town of Xiamen, across the strait from Taiwan, to work on cruise ships. Zheng was her colleague. They married in 2005 and moved to Zheng’s hometown of Lianjiang and he started a foot-massage business, eventually expanding into restaurants and Internet cafes. Over those six years, per-person annual income for China’s city dwellers almost doubled to more than 19,000 yuan.
"I didn’t have to worry about money," she says. Wang shows the last photo she has of her husband, taken with her iPhone in the People’s Square in Lianjiang on July 19. In it, Zheng is wearing jeans, black T-shirt and flip-flops, bending next to Tangtang, whose hair is swept off her face with barrettes. He’s pointing to Wang.
There has been a surge of home ownership in China. Home ownership remained somewhat of a novelty but increased in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2000, 25 percent of the families in Shanghai owned their homes. In Guangzhou and Shenzen the figure is near 50 percent. By 2007, 80 percent of urban homes in China were owned by individuals.
A car takes up 140 percent of the buyers’ annual income, compared with 30 to 40 percent in the United States. See Automobiles.
There is an element of show to consumption. Haagen Daz shops and Starbucks are often filled with customers but few Chinese buy pints of ice cream to take home or make coffee at home. A young woman may use a Chanel lipstick at a trendy restaurant but something else for work. Marketing expert Tom Doctoroff told U.S. News and World Report: “Brands are fueling the rise of the middle class in China. The Chinese have an aching ambition to climb up the ladder of success, and brands are the mark of people who have made it.”
Middle class status has become so fashionable that a whole series of "white collar" books and guides have sprung up that give advice on things like eating caviar, arranging candles, removing spinach trapped between one's teeth and telling a coworker he has body odor. There are also books for "pink-collars" (clerks and office workers) and golden collars (nouveau riche).
Middle class families with two busy parents are increasingly hiring maids. The demand for maids has risen as it has become easier for people in the countryside to move to the cities.
See Health Clubs, Recreation and Sports
Middle Class Kids in China
Leslie T. Chang wrote in National Geographic:“At the age of four, Zhou Jiaying was enrolled in two classes—Spoken American English and English Conversation—and given the English name Bella. Her parents hoped she might go abroad for college. The next year they signed her up for acting class. When she turned eight she started piano, which taught discipline and developed the cerebrum. In the summer she went to the pool for lessons; swimming, her parents said would make her taller. Bella wanted to be a lawyer, and to be a lawyer you had to tall.” [Source: Leslie T. Chang, National Geographic, May 2008]
“By the time she was ten, Bela lived a life that was rich with possibility and as regimented as a drill sergeant’s. After school she did homework unsupervised until her parents got home. Then came dinner, bath, piano practice. Sometimes she was permitted to watch television, but only the news. On Saturdays she took a private essay class followed by Math Olympics, and on Sunday a piano lesson and a prep class for her entrance exam to a Shanghai middle school. The best moment of her week was Friday afternoon, when school let out early. Bella might take a deep breath and look around, like a man who discovers a glimpse of blue sky from the confines of the prison yard.”
In her fifth grade class “Bell ranked in the middle—12th or 13th in a class of 25, lower if she lost focus...She spoke a fair amount of English...her favorite restaurant was Pizza Hut, and she liked the spicy wings at KFC...She owned 30 erasers—stored in a cookie tin at home—that were shaped like flip-flops and hamburgers and cartoon characters...If Bella scored well on a test, her parents bought her presents; a bad grade brought a clampdown at home...Her best subject was Chinese...She did poorly in math. Extra math tutoring was a constant and would remain so until the college entrance exams.”
On her heavy workload, Bella’ parents told Chang, “We don’t want to be brutal to her. But in China, the environment doesn’t let you do anything else.” In any case Bella began o rebel and talk about how much she hated school and loved Hollywood movies and Japanese manga. Her parents viewed themselves as failures according to Chang.
Middle Class Stress in China
Leslie T. Chang wrote in National Geographic: “For China’s emerging middle class, this is an age of aspiration—but also a time of anxiety. Opportunities have multiplied but each one brings pressure to take part and not lose out, and every acquisition seems to come ready-rapped in disappointment that it isn’t something newer and better. An apartment that was renovated a few years ago looks dated; a mobile phone without a video camera and color screen is an embarrassment. Classes in colloquial English are fashionable among Shanghai schoolchildren, but everything costs money...Freedom is not always liberating for people who grew up in a stable socialist society; sometimes it feels more like a never ending struggle not to fall behind.
One study found that 45 percent of Chinese urban residents are at risk to health problems due to stress, with the highest rates among high school students. Parents are often perplexed by modern life and turn to their children for advise. Kids show their parents cool Internet sites, tell them which brands to buy and pick out the restaurant when they go out to eat. In many cases school homework is too difficult for the parents to help. One sociologist told Chang, “Fathers used to give orders, but now fathers listen to their son.”
In newspapers there are stories of high school students with eating disorders, teenage boys reading books with homosexual themes, university-age couples living together and job seekers flooding Buddhist temples because the Chinese word for “reclining Buddha,” wofo, sounds like the word “offer. Families tell stories of cleaning ladies stealing from them and friends dying in car accidents, young girls meeting strange men online, crimes in their neighborhoods and old friends disappearing because they are embarrassed about their lowly jobs or their companies going bankrupt.
Chinese yuppies, known as dahu ("new money people") and to some as Chuppies, are very conspicuous in their clothes, habits and lifestyle. They include fashion designers, businessmen, nouveau riche farmers, traders, factory managers and skilled workers and are found mostly in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Describing Chinese yuppies, Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "They are smart, confident, optimistic. They emphasize quality of life—and are increasingly able to pay for it. They work and socialize with like-minded people, forming loose networks with fellow travelers on the road to greater personal freedom and fulfillment."
Chinese yuppies have a healthy appetite for household appliances, TVs and foreign products and are the market that many foreign companies hope to cash in on. Yuppies in Beijing drive Japanese cars, live in spacious suburban homes, dress in Chanel and Armani clothes, use cell phones, work out at the local gym, own microwave ovens and DVD players, vacation abroad, wear Prada and Gucci shoes and shop at IKEA.
Chinese, who quit their secure government jobs and strike out on their own, are known as "Xia hai" (a term that means "plunge into the sea"). Busy career women who fall in to this category often say "I have no time to be married."
Stressed Out Yuppies
To relieve the stress some young white-collar workers engage in pillow fights at local clubs and have formed nie nie zu (“pinch brigades”) that roam supermarkets shoplifting snacks, puncturing noodle packages and letting the fizz out of carbonated drinks. Workers with insomnia seek relief from Internet-recommended lullabies, binge eating or playing computers games in which they “steal vegetables” from virtual gardens.
A health survey of 20,000 Chinese white-collar workers by Microsoft web portal MSN, found that 80 percent of those surveyed had been depressed over the past six months. Six percent said they were in need of urgent help. One 30-year-old Chongqing professional told the Strait Times, “Because of the stress I face at work, I wake up earlier than a rooster and go to sleep later than a dog—making me zhu gou bu ru (“lowlier than a pig or dog”).
In July 2009, a man who worked for cell phone maker Foxconn who killed himself by jumping off a building said he suffered from overwork. He had worked the previous three months without a day off. The same month an employee with the same company committed suicide after being accused of stealing an iPhone prototype.
Brand Names in China
Some urban Chinese have become crazy about designer labels and names. On the streets in fashionable districts in Beijing and Shanghai men wear Zegna suits and women carry Louis Vuitton bags. Burberry is a particularly valued name among the counterfeit makers. Gucci has stores in China. Armani plans 30 stores by 2006
Marketing expert Tom Doctoroff told U.S. News and World Report: “Brands are fueling the rise of the middle class in China. The Chinese have an aching ambition to climb up the ladder of success, and brands are the mark of people who have made it.”
Tommy Hilfiger opened its first store in 2002 and had 40 stores in 23 Chinese cites in 2005. Business for Adidas doubled in 2004 and almost doubled again in 2005. One university students told U.S. News and World Report he was given $62 a month for expenses school and ate nothing but instant noodles all month and used the left money to buy Nike basketball shoes.
Many buyers are chuppies and people in their 20s and 30s that live at home and have large disposable incomes. Western companies are trying very hard to establish brand loyalty at a time when many Chinese are just developing their sense of taste. A 32-year-old Chinese woman told U.S. News and World Report, “In the U.S. kids know what they like. But in China, no one in the past thought that way—what do I prefer? What do I like to do? I am just starting to figure that out now.”
See Luxury Goods, Economics
Thames Town and American Middle Class Suburbs in China
Thames Town Western-style suburban developments outside Beijing have names like Napa Valley, Soho, Central Park, Palm Springs, and Vancouver Forest. Condominium developments in Shenyang have names like Up East Side Manhattan. Some middle class apartments are outfit with solar panels.
Some of the developments in the suburbs of Beijing, such as Beijing Riviera, are almost exact replicas of American suburbs. Mothers watch Oprah on cable television, children drink Slurpees and play in large backyards, fathers barbecue hamburgers. The streets have names live Maple Avenue and Park Lane, with no Chinese translation. There are swimming pools and putting greens.
Orange County is a development about an hour outside of Beijing financed with Chinese money and designed by American architects. It features tidy cookie-cutter homes with neat lawns, Tudor facades, backyard barbecues and $500,000 price tags. In accordance with feng shui the houses are oriented towards the south with mountains to the north. As is teh custom in China the cooking is often done in a separate shack outside the main house.
Shanghai is building nine satellite towns, each designed to mimic the architecture and culture of a different foreign country: Scandinavia town has Nobel Science and Technology Park. Canada Maple town has palm trees and a bridge with Roman columns.
Thames Town, a suburb 70 kilometers away from Shanghai downtown, contains a Gothic-look-alike church, cobblestone streets, a statue of Churchill, Georgian, Victorian and Tudor architectures the Cob Gate Fish & Chips and a piazza with guards in red uniforms.The town has become a tourist attraction with visitors thronging to have a look at the Western-style architectures and for scouting interesting corners for photography. The community is so admired brides and grooms come there in large numbers to have their wedding pictures taken. [Source: Xu Shenglan, Global Times, June 9, 2009]
Shanghai’s One City Nine-Satellite Towns program aims to relieve population pressure and break the mold of dull rural development. The one-square kilometer town has been developed into a community township incorporating a school with sporting facilities, kindergarten, club, theater, hospital and hotel. Various cultural and arts festivals, exhibitions are frequently held here. Many of the residents are foreigners who make jokes about their artificial environment but say they have chosen it because they want a safe and pleasant environment for their kids. Others are Chinese anxious to experience the American dream.
In a middle class development near Nanjing called Stratford, a polluted river was buried underground in giant pipe while a new ornamental river, really a lake, has been built above it. Other foreign-style developments include the Balinese retreats and Italian villas in Nanjing, the Venice and Zurich in Hangzhou
Has the Chinese Government Bought Off the Middle Class?
On the belief that China’s regime has bought off the middle class, Minxin Pei wrote in the Washington Post: Hardly. Three decades of double-digit economic growth has elevated about 250 to 300 million Chinese — mainly urban residents — to middle-class status. Since the regime crushed the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989, the middle class has been busy pursuing wealth, not demanding political freedoms. But this does not mean this group has thrown its support behind the ruling party. There is a world of difference between political apathy and enduring loyalty. [Source: Minxin Pei, Washington Post, January 26, 2011;Minxin Pei, director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, is the author of “China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy.”]
At most, the Chinese middle class tolerates the status quo because it is a vast improvement over the totalitarian rule of the past — and because there is no practical or immediate alternative. But as the Arab Spring shows, a single event or a misstep by authoritarian rulers can transform apathetic middle-class citizens into radical revolutionaries.
That can happen even without a precipitating economic crisis. Today, China’s middle class is becoming more dissatisfied with inequality, corruption, unaffordable housing, pollution and poor services. In Shanghai a few years ago, thousands of middle-class citizens staged a “collective walk” and stopped a planned train extension, a project that threatened their home values. A similar demonstration last year in Dalian resulted in the shutdown of a polluting petrochemical plant. The party knows it cannot bank on middle-class support. Such insecurity lies behind its continuing harshness toward political dissent.
Huaxi, China's Richest Village
Huaxi Village in Jiangyin County in Jiangsu Province is regarded as China’s richest village. Along its Tree-lined boulevards are identical red-roofed villas with manicured lawns and two car garages. As of 2009, each family had a house and at least one car, provided by the community, and assets of $150,000.
Huaxi is home to 30,000 people and remains essentially a commune, with land owned jointly and wealth divided among everyone. Every hour loudspeakers in the village square blast: “If you want to see a miracle, come to Huaxi.”
Gambling and drugs and talking to outsiders are strictly forbidden. There are no bars, karaokes, Internet cafes or nightlife. Anyone who engages in speculation has their property confiscated. For social activities there are lots of meetings and entertainment provided by the village theatrical troupe. Workers recieve half their income in regular salaries and half in bonuses. People who move from the village forfeit their property.
Huaxi Success and Wu Renbao
The village’s steel, iron and textiles enterprises brought it $7.3 billion in sales in 2008. The Huaxi Group was the first commune corporation to be listed on a Chinese stock market. The underpinning of the community— the 30,000 migrant workers, who keep the factories humming—receive a much smaller share of the wealth than the commune’s residents.
In 2003, Huaxai contained 58 village-owned businesses that did $1.2 billion in business and had fixed assets of $362 million. Villagers earn an average of $6,000 a year, a lot by Chinese standards, and live in houses that average 400 square meters.
The village owes its success to one man Wu Renbao, a farmer and village patriarch who got his start in the early days of the Deng reforms by setting up a factory in Huaxi to make fertilizer spray bottles. Soon he was making $242,000 a year, and reinvesting his money in other ventures in Huanxi. In the Mao-era Wu practiced “outward obedience and secret independence” and set up a secret manufacturing operation in the Cultural Revolution.
Wu Renbao turned 84 in 2011 and has continued to live in the same two-story houses he has occupied since the 1970s. On the key to Huaxi’s success he told AP, “What is socialism? What is capitalism? We only wanted the things that are good for our people. We wanted people to get rich.”
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “ The elder Mr. Wu extols Huaxi’s splendor —and the Beijing government’s wisdom and foresight —in a lengthy lecture given each morning in an auditorium packed with hundreds of tourists. To hammer the message home, there follows a musical, a sort of Chinese opera with Disney characteristics and toe-tapping lyrics like “Where we live: garden, house, little Western-style mansion What we eat: a food culture full of nutrition What we wear: big brand names of fashion” and “Huaxi is rich in substance, politics and spirit One American guest said, “O.K., O.K, Socialism is so good, we Americans want it, too!”
Huaxi Model Maoist Village
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Huaxi, a village of 2,000, a few hours by car northwest of Shanghai. For though not many foreigners have heard of Huaxi, Chinese far and wide know it as the socialist collective that works —the village where public ownership of the means of production has not just made everyone equal, but rich, too. Two million tourists come annually to view the Huaxi marvel, no small number of them officials from other villages who yearn to know how Huaxi did it. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times July 11, 2011] When China effectively embraced capitalism in the 1980s, Huaxi was an agrarian hovel, reachable by dirt roads. Mr. Wu, then the local Communist Party secretary, seized on the new market freedoms to shift the Huaxi economy from farming to manufacturing and trade, but with a twist: the residents would throw their money into a collective pot and share in the take from whatever new businesses they bought. “In the 30 years after the opening up, the system changed in many places,” Mr. Wu’s son, Wu Xie’en, told the New York Times. “Some chose private ownership, but we Huaxi people chose public ownership. The biggest benefit is that the people share the common prosperity.”
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “That Huaxi is prosperous seems undeniable. Here, the villagers get lavish annual stipends, live in spacious single-family homes instead of China’s usual cramped apartments, drive imported cars, and get basic medical care, education and even an annual vacation free from the government. Lately they also get free helicopter rides, courtesy of a 100 million renminbi, or $15.5 million, fleet of helicopters and small jets the village is buying to attract still more sightseers. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times July 11, 2011]
Ge Xiufang, now 62, was a penniless peasant in a northern area of Jiangsu Province when her newly graduated son began looking for work in the early 1990s. “He saw an ad in the paper calling for workers to come to Huaxi,” she said. “So we came here, and two years later, we became villagers.”
That was in 1993, before Huaxi took off. Ms. Ge was interviewed in her son’s house, a two-story building with marble floors, overstuffed leather sofas, a large aquarium and a liquor cabinet dominated by an enormous bottle of expensive Scotch. Ms. Ge said she and her husband live in a sprawling town house a few blocks away and shuttle between homes in one of the family’s three cars. “We peasants, we didn’t even have apartment buildings in those days,” she said. “We had no idea it would be this good.”
Huaxi’s Corporate Structure
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Yet what is branded as socialismlooks from the outside a great deal like an old-fashioned capitalist corporation, apparently savvily managed, with 2,000 shareholders who live comfortably off their dividends. Indeed, Huaxi’s affairs are run by a company, the Jiangsu Huaxi Group Corporation, reported to shelter 57 subsidiaries, including seven more holding companies. The town has interests in everything from extruded aluminum to traditional medicine to spun polyester cloth to real estate. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times July 11, 2011]
“We have too many investments to count,” said the younger Mr. Wu, the chief executive of the enterprise, which is said on several Web sites to be managed by members of the Wu family. He said he spends his days worrying about investment bubbles, and sprinkles his conversation with references to business advice gleaned at the University of California, Berkeley, and from studies of General Electric’s business model.
Mr. Wu’s claims of success are hard to verify, because the conglomerate’s revenue and earnings are not disclosed in an audited form. Published but unverified reports indicate that the corporation employs at least 25,000 people, many of whom live in the urban area of about 30,000 that exists outside Huaxi’s cramped legal boundaries. A 2009 report in a state-run newspaper said annual revenue totaled 50 billion renminbi, about $7.7 billion at current exchange rates.
Village leaders have denied persistent reports that Huaxi benefits from substantial government subsidies like low-interest loans, although the younger Mr. Wu said in an interview that some of the village’s ventures are financed by debt that amounts to as much as 60 percent of their value.
Huaxi’s Labor Force
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “While each villager is required to work at a Huaxi business seven days a week, virtually all the manual labor is performed by what Marx might have called the proletariat: thousands of outside workers, many of them migrants, who receive better salaries and benefits than many workers elsewhere, but do not share in Huaxi’s profits. For that, one needs a hukou, or residence permit —and Huaxi hands those out with great care. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times July 11, 2011]
“This is called exploitation,” said Fei-Ling Wang, a Georgia Tech professor who has studied Huaxi as part of research into Jiangsu Province villages. “Because the outside workers, by law, cannot become a local resident. They cannot share the results of their works. And they are paid by wages, and if they lost their job, they are simply sent home. “If all migrant workers are treated as full members of the community,” Professor Wang said, “then Huaxi wouldn’t work.”
Huaxi Village’s 74-Story Skyscraper
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Huaxi has built a 74-story skyscraper next to their prim town square as part of that has been been called another step in their plan to create the communist utopia envisioned by Mao. The enormous skyscraper, topped with a gigantic gold sphere, will never win architectural awards. But it will add to Huaxi’s allure, the village fathers confidently predict —and soak up tourist money as well. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times July 11, 2011]
Huaxi’s so-called New Village in the Sky —at 1,076 feet, a bit taller than the Chrysler Building in Manhattan —is getting finishing touches this summer in preparation for an October opening. Among other attractions, it will have a five-star hotel, a gold-leaf-embellished concert hall, an upscale shopping mall and what is billed as Asia’s largest revolving restaurant. Also, it will have five life-size statues of a water buffalo, Huaxi’s symbol, on every 12th floor or so.
That this half-billion-dollar edifice is a good 40-minute drive from a city of any size is part of the plan. “We call it the three-increase building,” said Wu Renbao, 84, the town’s revered patriarch, meaning that it will increase Huaxi’s acreage (by half), increase its work force (by 3,000) and, hardly least of all, increase its wealth.
If he is right, all 2,000 villagers will get a little richer. They all own a piece of the building —just as they own the town’s steel mill, textile factory, greenhouse complex, ocean shipping company and other ventures. That is Huaxi’s carefully curated narrative: by rigidly adhering to socialism with Chinese characteristics, the citizens of this little village have created an oasis of prosperity and comfort that is the envy of the world. Over a year, one of the building’s water buffalos has grown in value by 70 million renminbi, or about $10.7 million. That would be the buffalo destined for the 74th floor. The one cast in solid gold.
When asked if people in his villages were happy, Wu answered affirmatively by saying that “happiness” is defined as “car, house, money, child and face.” “If you have these five things you are happy. When you make money by legal means, you can sleep easy and not have nightmares.”
Image Sources: Cgstcok photos and Changsan Motors, Wiki Commons, Reuters and China Daily
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2012