Date Posted: 20:53 26/10/2004
Shanghai has more money than last year shock
Shanghai still has poor people, but wealth is always relative
THE ENGLISH-language newspaper, China Daily, tells us today that income disparities in Shanghai, like elsewhere, remain huge. Citing figures from the local statistical bureau, the report notes that urban per capita spending in the first nine months of the year was RMB 9,605 (up 15.9%!), compared to just RMB 4.235 in Shanghai's dwindling rural areas.
Of course, these figures have to be put into perspective. In Ningxia, the annual per capita rural income, even after factoring in the value of cattle or crops, comes to less than RMB 800 for the whole year, according to official government statistics.
Shanghai has enjoyed decades of favourable economic policies offered by a government intent on undermining the gweilo-built financial centre of Hong Kong. Although the city is not yet comparable with New York, London or Hong Kong, and while there are still significant swathes of poverty in the city's outskirts, the place is a veritable den of opulence compared to northern Jiangsu, Anhui, the decaying Northeast, or the neglected northwest.
Experts like to attribute the profound imbalance to geographical location, which is partly true, but without the sustained backing and encouragement of the Shanghai-dominated central government, one likes to think that the inequities would not have been quite so profound.
Meanwhile, millions more are poured into China's most spoilt city to build prestige high-rises that remain half-empty, vanity villa complexes available only to the very rich and the very corrupt, and appalling, sprawling golf courses scattered with gaudy nouveaux riches.
The thing about Shanghai is that, well, it isn't the real China. In their celebrated account of China's bruised and battered rural population, An Investigation into the Chinese Peasantry, the authors compare the prosperity and glistening growth of China's wealthiest city with the brutally-poor farms only a few hundred kilometres north, noting that many foreign visitors to Shanghai would be surprised to see the country's real face.
Shanghai, of course, is privileged, and since its foundation, always has been. It might be better known for its porn and its pain – for the million-strong beggar and prostitute communities, for its opium dens, its gangster chic. It is also home to some of the most concentrated bursts of wealth and glamour. Thirty years of Maoism could not extinguish its dubious spirit, and now the leash had been unfastened, most people agree that it is returning to its roots.
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