The irony of the 21st century

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The irony of the 21st century


The “duvet of youth” is the hottest item among wealthy Chinese. The cover is embroidered with a golden thread, and all kinds of herbs supposedly helpful for better sleep are stuffed inside. As rumors of people who supposedly experienced the health effects spread, the “duvet of youth” became a symbol of wealth. The price of the duvet is equivalent to a nice condo in China, going for as much as 1 million yuan ($160,214). But the expensive bedding is selling briskly.

The gap between the rich and the poor in China is astonishing. Some people buy not just Ferraris and Porsches but also private jets for their children. Yet others commit suicide because they cannot afford to buy food for their kids. In 1988, the country’s top 10 percent earned 7.3 times more than the bottom 10 percent. Last year, the top 10 percent earned 23 times more than the bottom 10 percent. According to the United Nations, 13 percent of the Chinese population is earning less than $1.25 a day.

Researches show that China’s Gini coefficient is over 0.6. The Gini index measures the inequality of wealth in a society, and as the index gets closer to 1, it means the gap between the rich and the poor is larger. If it is greater than 0.4, the income inequality is serious. If it is over 0.5, the society is in a dangerous situation on the verge of social unrest. A research team at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, reported that the Gini coefficient of Chinese households in 2010 was 0.61. The inequality level is similar to the days of the late Qing Dynasty’s Taiping Rebellion. The Gini index of the United States is 0.46, relatively high for a developed country, and Brazil’s, notorious for the big discrepancy between the rich and poor, is 0.53. It is the irony of the 21st century that the country that advocates communism has the greatest inequality in wealth.

It is said that 200,000 popular protests are held across China, although they get little media coverage. China’s new leader Xi Jinping said in his inaugural speech that the priority task for the Communist Party and the government for the next decade is to resolve the gap between the rich and the poor.

In a contribution to the People’s Daily, Wu Jianmin, former president of China Foreign Affairs University, wrote that the adage “hide brightness, nourish obscurity” was a valuable legacy of Deng Xiaoping, and China should pursue the direction without hesitation or disturbance. Instead of making enemies by swaying influence, China needs to be more prudent and modest to seek truth based on facts. Rather than boasting its economic and military power, Beijing needs to focus on resolving domestic issues first.

If China falls into chaos, the prime cause will be the gap between the rich and the poor.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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