Sustained Development Leads to Higher Living Standards


Commercial housing sales rose by 59.8 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2013.

CHINA’s economy has significantly advanced over the past 35 years of reform and opening-up. Chinese people’s incomes have risen and their living standards have improved, from barely having enough to eat and adequate clothing to today’s generally better-off lifestyle.

Higher Incomes and Better Lives

China’s GDP per capita grew from RMB 381 in 1978 to RMB 38,420 in 2012, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and based on current prices. In 1987 this figure surpassed RMB 1,000 to hit RMB 1,112. Five years later in 1992, GDP per capita exceeded RMB 2,000 to reach RMB 2,311. In 2003 this figure rose to RMB 10,542; in 2007 to RMB 20,169; and in 2010 to RMB 30,015. Breaking down the price factor, China’s GDP per capita in 2012 grew 16.2 times that of 1978, with an average annual growth of 8.7 percent.

China’s gross national income (GNI) per capita rose from US $190 in 1978 to US $5,680 in 2012, according to World Bank statistics and based on current prices. Judging from Chinese and international statistics, both China’s GDP per capita and GNI per capita sustained steady year-on-year growth, and China moved from a low-income to an upper-middle income country.

There was in the process a massive growth in per capita disposable income. In 2012, Chinese urban residents’ average disposable income hit RMB 24,565 – a 71-fold leap compared with the RMB 343 of 1978. This constituted an average annual growth of 13.4 percent, or 7.4 percent after deducting the price factor. Net per capita income among rural Chinese was RMB 7,917 in 2012, a 58-fold growth and 12.8 percent average annual growth, or 7.5 percent when deducting the price factor.

At the end of 2012, Chinese urban and rural residents’ deposits totaled RMB 39.96 trillion, a 1,896-fold rise compared with that at the end of 1978, and a 24.9 percent average annual growth. Urban Chinese residents hence started to rake in property income, which accounted for 2.6 percent of the per capita total in 2012, according to statistics.

All these figures show that there has been substantial improvement in Chinese people’s living standards and quality of life. In 2012, the per capita cash expenditure of China’s urban residents was RMB 16,674 – 52.6 times that of 1978 – an annual growth of 12.4 percent. Chinese rural residents’ per capita cash expenditure in 2012 was RMB 5,908 – 49.9 times that in 1978, so showing annual growth of 12.3 percent. Also, in 2012, the per capita living area of urban residents was 32.9 square meters, 26.2 square meters more than in 1978, while that of rural residents expanded to 37.1 square meters from 29 square meters of 1978.

Chinese citizens are also spending their money on more diverse products. TVs, fridges, air-conditioners and telephones are relatively commonplace, and the ownership rate of private cars and computers has substantially risen. At the end of 2012, every 100 urban households owned 212.6 cell phones – 193.1 more than at the end of the year 2,000; also 87 computers – 77.3 more over the same period; and 21.5 private cars – 21 more than 12 years earlier. The same number of urban households also owned 126.81 air-conditioners – 126.47 more than in 1990; also 98.48 fridges – 56.15 more over the same period; and 136.07 TVs – 77.03 more than 22 years ago.

Meanwhile China’s impoverished population has dramatically declined. From 1978 to 2012, China adopted different standards to define the poverty line in rural areas. According to that in 1978, the number of people living in absolute poverty in rural areas was 250 million that year, accounting for about one fourth of the total population. This figure fell to 14.79 million in 2007, implying that an average 8.11 million people each year had risen from poverty. Consistent with the 2008 poverty line, China’s poverty-stricken rural population fell from 43.2 million in 2007 to 26.88 million in 2010. This means that an average 5.44 million people each year escaped from poverty. And gauged by the 2010 poverty line, China’s poverty-stricken rural population fell from 165.67 million in 2010 to 98.99 million in 2012, about 10 percent of total rural population. Around 33.34 million people each year hence overcome poverty.

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