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Monday, March 07, 2005

China on everyone's minds

Just watched the first in a series of reports on Newsnight this week about changing China. In fact the BBC is having a whole China-themed week (this is quite a fashion these days - I seem to remember the Guardian also had such a week a few months ago). Tonight's report focused on class, profiling a gigantic seafood restaurant in Tianjin employing 700 people.

Talk of China's 'growing inequality' has become quite a cliche of late (as though China was once not unequal...) but some of the figures in this programme really brought home the fact that China is now one of the most unequal countries in the world. For example, waitresses in the restaurant (who live in a dorm inside the massive building) earn the equivalent of 20 pounds a month ($35?) while a head chef, who is only middle management level earns 400 pounds a month - 20 times as much. You can only guess at what the chief executive of the company that owns the restaurant is earning.

One of the most interesting parts of the report was when they interviewed a group of young people in a private karaoke room at the restaurant having the sort of after work booze-up / sing-along that employees all over East Asia seem to love. It turned out that they were actually workers from the paintshop of the local Toyota car plant letting off a bit of steam. They earn 100 pounds a month and are obviously at the relatively privileged end of the Chinese working class, but they did not seem all that impressed with their wages. As the reporter pointed out, one of the biggest worries for the Chinese ruling class is how to suppress demands for higher wages, particularly among this sector of skilled manual workers.

There is also quite a nice article on BBC News about the Chinese diaspora in the UK - Britain's so-called 'hidden minority' of 250,000 (not so hidden around where I live, as there seem to be quite a lot of mainland Chinese labourers). Funnily enough, the first person profiled is venture capitalist and fellow SOAS student Johnny Hon, who is also a pal of Kim Jong-il's I believe.


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