China Struggles to Bridge Gap Between Rich, Poor

A family walks out of a Dior store in Beijing, China, in this 2007 file photo.
A family walks out of a Dior store in Beijing, China, in this 2007 file photo.
Shannon Sant

China’s National People’s Congress is wrapping up 10 days of meetings in Beijing, where officials are laying out policy priorities. Among the biggest concerns is addressing the growing gap between rich and poor.

At this year's annual legislative session, some 3,000 delegates discussed China’s economy, ethnic unrest and reform of the country’s legal system.

But for many, the growing gap between rich and poor is the most pressing issue, especially in Beijing's slums, where the country's most affluent and the least can live in close proximity.


Chinese woman walks past beggars on pedestrian bridge in Guangzhou, China (2007 file photo)
Chinese woman walks past beggars on pedestrian bridge in Guangzhou, China (AP 2007 file photo)

In a network of alleys behind one of the city’s luxury shopping malls, dozens of shacks are a block away from a Bentley dealership.

In one of these tiny rooms, constructed from a patchwork of aluminum and metal siding held down by rocks and bricks, Li Yulan, 78, runs a small shop that sells snacks and soft drinks.

She says the rich are too rich. The poor are too poor. Of eight people in her family, just two have income, she says.  Li says the family needs the income from her little store.

For Li Yulan, the biggest worry is the rising cost of living. Her income has grown in recent years, but she says it is not enough to offset the rising cost of goods. She says she and many others in this small neighborhood, sandwiched between the city’s skyscrapers, hope the legislators understand their struggle.

Li says the NPC is good so long as the problems are solved, but she says just vain talk is useless. She says people in her community are most concerned about rising food prices.

Domestic inflation has long been a by-product of the country's rapid economic growth and the rising value of its currency. However, the latest figures indicate the government is succeeding somewhat in reducing the increasing costs. Year on year price inflation was 3.2 percent in February, the smallest rise since June 2010.

In his opening speech to the NPC, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced plans to slow the economy to help curb inflation - which China wants to keep below four percent. Wen also said the government will take measures to restrain rising property prices.

Classless society

At Xin Kong Place, one of China’s many shopping malls, wealthy Chinese peruse the latest fashions at Chanel, Gucci and Ferragamo. Here, inflationary prices seem to be far from shoppers minds. For the city’s affluent, the concerns of the middle class are more important than government measures to diminish the gap between rich and poor.

Xia Xia, 26, did not have much of an opinion on the NPC meeting.

She says she is not from political circles and doesn't know much about economic problems.
Other shoppers said the gap in incomes is not as important as ensuring all Chinese benefit from the country's economic growth. Wang, 33, works in IT and says it is impossible for a country as big as China to have a classless society.

He says China has 1.3 billion people and that it is unavoidable to have such an income gap.  Wang says the government should focus on how to raise the middle and lower classes living standards, but that an income gap is unavoidable.

Back in the slums, Li Yulan seems resigned to her economic situation. She says China's class divide has persisted across generations and will likely continue in the future.

Li says the wealthy will always be wealthy. The poor people will stay poor. She says the children of officials are likely to be officials and her children are likely to live life as she does.

Li’s neighborhood has been slated for demolition, as real estate developers hungry to cash in on China’s property boom have tried to force residents like her off their property. Amidst the rubble and rundown shacks, Li says she and her friends have refused to leave for one reason:  they cannot afford the cost of a new home.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Cheng
March 22, 2012 6:35 AM
There is no more moral wealth in China

by: Struggles
March 18, 2012 7:14 PM
There are millions of people throughout China who are living on the equivalent of one U.S. dollar a day. And they don't have toilets. they have dumplings outhouse. They still cook using coal briquettes and kindling that they find from the countryside.

by: Who Care Bridge Gap Between Rich, Poor.
March 17, 2012 10:10 PM
Once they took over the China. The Manchu wore the single tail hair with shaved foreheads. Their followers were subsequently called "Mandarin". Mandarin culture doesn't believe any religion and human right, who care Bridge Gap Between Rich, Poor.

by: Amanda
March 15, 2012 2:53 PM
I think, the growing gap between rich and poor is not only the most pressing issue for china, but also for many developing and developed countries. Somehow i agreed the old lady's point, the wealthy will always be wealthy, since currently the big companies and affluents occupied most resources.

by: Andrew
March 15, 2012 6:18 AM
I suppose that what Wang said is true. It is unavoidble to bridge gap between rich and poor. After all,we have more than 1.3 billion population.

by: Chou
March 15, 2012 4:09 AM
"Knowledge is the way to change your fate."It's very popular in china.My teacher,my mother and even other persons tell me this sentence,so that encourage me to study hard.But ,hopelessly,I don't know where is my fate.Chinese class is freezed and it is impossible to change anything.

by: yang
March 14, 2012 7:33 PM
for youths like me ,we try our best to struggle for a house ,because house equals a family ,we don't have a house ,then we can not possess a family which belongs to our owns.but a house really costs more than all the two family's all income , it seems we need to do all the work for this house.when we find we've finished paying,we are old.and new pressure is coming then.

by: Mike
March 14, 2012 7:00 PM
As a chinese,I want to say something about my country.First,we are sufferinga a difficult time ,but we have confidence of our country.CHINA,as a standard of eastern countrys,I think there are too much duty on its shoulder,what we need to do is not only blame but also rely,please rely on my country,china.

by: wlk
March 14, 2012 10:55 AM
i am chinese,i am so sad。who can help us??

by: Yasin
March 14, 2012 2:45 AM
yeah, the major problem how to raise a income every one in china without seeing background and position. I couldn't imagine happening if the gap continues to be conflict

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs