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development of middle class in China


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We all know that China currently has a very prosperous middle class just like most countries (I guess before this econ crisis :mrgreen:), but I often hear that China used to just be the rich and the poor. That's the way one classmate described Chinese society before Mao changed China. I read this website about Chinese culture, which basically says the same thing (except it doesn't mention Mao).

However, I remember reading about Mao growing up in a relatively wealthy household, as his father was a rice merchant/farmer. If so, then wouldn't his be considered a middle class household, since they were neither dirt poor nor filthy rich?

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the definition of "middle class"... I always try to learn more about Chinese history/culture, but then my stupidity gets in the way :wall

Any help is appreciated :)

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Low, middle and upper class varies based on the culture. I suspect that in China, class may be very different from that of many other cultures. It would be interesting to see the definitions in Chinese.

In North America, class is really hard to define. At the end of the day, earned income, rather than profession, seems to determine class. A lawyer earning $50k would be considered middle-class, but a plumber earning $250k would be considered upper class most likely.

In the UK, I've heard different terms. Working class is the class that has to work just to get by. Middle class consists of people who don't have to work but choose to work, and upper class are those who need not bother with work. I find this system much easier to understand than the North American system based on the earned income.

Perhaps you have to understand the definition of those classes in the mid-20th system.

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Well, I found a few definitions of "middle class" on google.

Wiktionary says: "A social and economic class lying above the working class and below the upper class; The groups in society composed of professionals, semi-professionals, and lower-to-middle managerial level workers "

This would be consistent with the UK usage I guess.

Another website defines it as such: "a social class made up of skilled workers, professionals, business people, and wealthy farmers"

I like this definition, as it includes wealthy farmers..

Yet another website says this: "Social and economic class usually composed of merchants, artisans, and business people. In some societies, the richest class, but without a title of nobility. The middle class is usually the backbone of society as they are generally more moderate in their economic, social, and political habits."

Using these definitions of "middle class", I guess the middle class existed way before Mao's time. Then what's with the stories about Chinese society consisting of only upper & lower classes?

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It used to be the case in the UK that you almost certainly stayed in the class you were born in. This has changed a lot in the last 30 years giving rise to the "muddle" class - people who cannot or do not want to place themselves into a particular class.

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Speaking here from a British perspective, and with all the correspondent class baggage that that entails...

I have seen Mao's family described as 'wealthy peasants', but I'm not sure if you could term that working class or middle class without making those terms meaningless (if they have any meaning at all). Of course, those labels apply differently to different countries (it is interesting to consider how the UK and US differ in that respect), but comparison is generally made of industrial/post industrial countries, where the economic system has resulted in a specilaisation of labour such that class consciousness arises.

I've seen Mao's family described as 'well to do peasants', but I guess that still ties them to the land, and still ties them to all that goes with being a 'nong min' (whatever that is). However, they were rich enough to allow Mao to get a good education (I believe his calligraphy is pretty good, which I guess isn't really a typical nong min sort of thing to do). Mao certainly thought of himself as a peasant, which is perhaps as far as its possible to get.

In the end, I think class is just what we judge ourselves and others to be from our own, often self contradictory standards. How Mao could see himself as a peasant while lying around in the summer palace and writing calligraphy I have no idea, but I guess that is the nature of class.

I'm interested in the way in which Chinese today use 'nong min'. It seems that people who move to places like guangdong are still nongmin, despite working in a city in jobs which far away from working the land. I see a lot in common with the often archaic way in which British people think about class.

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My whole life I had the same confusion:

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the definition of "middle class"...
In North America, class is really hard to define.
In the UK, I've heard different terms.

I've been to many countries and cultures ... and I've never been able to define this.Am I middle class? Rich? Poor? I don't have clue. Does it really matter in today's society ... unless your're in the stock or property market? And even then (reading today's newspapers)?

Well ... I've decided I'm very rich. I have many friends ... true friends. :mrgreen:

Just my 5 mao.

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Looking at Mao's self-definition as Communist leader probably doesn't help a lot: Communist ideology comes in, and you had to be a peasant to fit in as leader. Anything above = not a comrade, but a class enemy...

More confusion obviously does come from the different usage. In the case of China, there is probably a difference between usage/ideas in imperial and in modern times. Not least, I'd presume that (social) recognition of different classes may play a role: If there is only nobility and the rest, then even a rich merchant is just "the rest," although better off than some impoverished scholar materially... Question is, do you count material status, or social status, or a combination? Do you want to count it by the standards of the people themselves, or from the perspective of "objective" factors?

Same, as apparent from the posts above, applies to Western societies: From a Central European point of view, I'd also think that middle class doesn't "choose to work" but rather has to work. The idea would be that they have a middling income, therefore can (easily) afford a comfortable lifestyle.

Recently, we had quite many discussions about "Unterschicht" (low class), because they seem to exist, aren't really supposed to (because we are all off well-enough - of course, that's just self-image of a society, or rather, the higher social strata of same society), have all the usual amenities - but bought them on credit, have trouble paying for daily necessities, etc.

In imperial times, it was a bit easier: You used to have peasants and nobility, later you got merchants and other well-to-do people (mainly, city people) as a middle class which didn't have the peasants' material poverty, but neither had the governmental rights of nobility (which is where - with their rise - European democracies come from... simplified a lot). Still, same thing as with China: are those all middle-class? Is it just the money? ...

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