Source: Wide Angle: "To Have and Have Not"
An elite business class has been established by the surge in China’s economy. Exclusive gated communities are being developed to accommodate a new scale of luxury living for the few who find themselves at the top of China’s economic ladder. Real estate agent Jackie Wu gives a tour of a mansion designed for China’s new elite and discusses his own economic disposition in this video from Wide Angle.
Asia Map (Image)
China Map (Image)
Since the late 1970s, China has shifted from a centrally planned economy that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy. Reforms began in the agricultural, industrial, and financial sectors, and labor regulations were relaxed. The government also focused on foreign trade as a major vehicle for economic growth, and to encourage foreign investment, China created special economic zones in coastal cities.
As the result of adopting economic reforms and joining the World Trade Organization in December 2001, China's per capita income has grown at an average annual rate of more than 8% over the last three decades. While poverty has been drastically reduced, this rapid growth has been accompanied by rising income inequalities, especially between rural and urban areas.
One specific change China has been forced to embrace as a result of joining the WTO is to liberalize the movement of labor within the country. During the Maoist era of the 1950s, China instituted an inherited residency permit system that defined where its citizens could work. This system, or "hukou," made it extremely difficult for rural residents to leave their hometowns and move to cities to work. Restructuring the hukou system has been a very controversial topic even though many Community Party leaders recognize it is an impediment to economic progress. The system still exists, but enforcement of the residency permits has been relaxed in recent years. By the early 21st century an estimated 200 million Chinese lived outside their officially-registered areas. While it is easier for these migrants to work in cities than ever before, they are still unofficial residents of the cities and as a result have very limited access to education and government services. Many are forced to live a precarious existence in company dormitories or shanty towns, and in several respects occupy a social and economic status similar to illegal immigrants.
The Wide Angle film "To Have and Have Not" explores the human side of China's newly liberalized market economy. In the film, the increasing income gap between rich and poor is highlighted in vivid detail. The gated communities, luxury vehicles, and seemingly boundless consumption of China's newly rich is seen in stark contrast to the plight of migrant workers, who struggle to eke out a living and to educate their children at the margins of urban society.
NARRATOR: Although it's 300 miles from the ocean, they call this development the Beijing Riviera. It's the most luxurious of the exclusive gated communities for wealthy Chinese. Real estate agents who make their living renting out these mansions could never afford to live there themselves.
JACKIE WU: This is living room. Dining room. This is the kitchen. Jacuzzi. Steam room.
INTERVIEWER: So what's the price for this? What's the rental price?
JACKIE WU: Rental price is 12,000 to 13,000.
INTERVIEWER: 12,000 dollars a month?
JACKIE WU: Yeah a month. Per month.
INTERVIEWER: Jackie, can you play golf?
JACKIE WU: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: When did you start?
JACKIE WU: Ah last year.
INTERVIEWER: Jackie do you ever wish that you would have stayed a teacher because some people like teaching, it's a big satisfaction?
JACKIE WU: Ah, the teacher in China -- the salary of a teacher is not high. I'm, I'm have the family. I must to get more money for my family.
INTERVIEWER: When did Starbucks come here?
JACKIE WU: Last year. I like the cappuccino.
INTERVIEWER: And how about McDonalds? Do you like McDonalds?
JACKIE WU: I don't like McDonalds.
INTERVIEWER: Why not?
JACKIE WU: You know, I think the Chinese food is better then McDonalds.
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever miss the old days?
JACKIE WU: I think I prefer the new life.
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