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Professor: China's Middle Class Still Small

A study shows the majority of China’s middle class are only borderline members of the group, who could easily slip back into poverty.

By Han Bingbin Updated Apr.20

The majority of China’s middle class are still on the borderline with the working class, according to a study by Professor Li Qiang of Tsinghua University, an expert on social stratification, cited by Caixin.com.  

Survey work by Li shows that the middle class only makes up around 19 percent of the total population, and 73 percent of them are only 'borderline middle class,' typically holding jobs in retail, as administrative personnel, or as technicians. Li said that this group needs help due to their unstable social status. 

In bigger cities, even more people belong to the borderline middle class group. In China's mega-cities of 10 million people or more, they can make up 25 percent of the whole population. Big cities thus face bigger challenges in fostering the growth of a steady middle class, Li said, especially since many of this borderline group are migrants, who risk being excluded and marginalized as a result. That makes the need for hukou (residence permit) reform imperative, Li argued. 

But Li was positive about the role of the middle class in cities as a whole, saying his work showed bigger cities actually helped avoid urban decay and improved the size of the middle income group. Urban malaise, he said, was mostly the fault of poor city management that failed to properly tackle problems like traffic jams and pollution.