China Power

A Tale of Two Chinas

A new survey underscores the relative deprivation of China’s rural population.

A Tale of Two Chinas
Credit: Flickr/Sam_V

A new survey released this week emphasizes that the biggest divide between Chinese citizens continues to be among rural and urban residents.

This week Gallup and Healthways released their annual Global Well-Being Index, “a global barometer of individuals’ perceptions of their well-being.” The survey explores the notion of well-being from a holistic perspective. Besides financial and physical well-being, the index also measures factors like social well-being (“having supportive relationships and love in your life”), community well-being (“liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community”), and purpose well-being (“liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals”).

Overall, China ranks poorly on many of these indicators. Just 9 percent of Chinese are thriving in purpose compared to 13 percent in the Asia-Pacific and 18 percent worldwide. Similarly, with regard to community well-being, just 16 percent of Chinese citizens are thriving compared to 25 percent in the region and 26 percent globally. China is also slightly below the regional and far below the global average on social well-being, and the 25 percent of Chinese who are thriving financially is the same as the regional and global averages. Only on physical well-being is China above average both regionally and globally.

However, a closer look at the data reveal that there is a clear divide among rural and urban Chinese on most metrics of well-being. For example, rural Chinese are nearly twice as likely to be suffering financially as urban Chinese (29 percent and 16 percent respectively). In other words, urban Chinese are slightly more likely to be thriving financially than the regional and global average, but rural Chinese are nearly 40 percent less likely to be thriving financially than Asians and the world writ large.

The Chinese scored lowest when it came to liking what they do each day and being motivated their goals, with 35 percent suffering compared to just 9 percent thriving. Indeed, Gallup recently concluded that “China still has one of the lowest rates of employee engagement in the world. Just 6% of Chinese workers overall are engaged in their jobs, while 68% are biding their time in the ‘not engaged’ category and 26% are actively disengaged and likely to be disrupting the efforts of their coworkers.” Still, office workers (largely concentrated in cities) fare better than their non-office counterparts in the purpose category, with 30 percent of the former suffering compared with 40 percent for the latter.

Rural Chinese are suffering when it comes to community well-being as well. Around 23 percent of urban Chinese are thriving on this measurement, compared to 25 percent of the region and 26 percent of the world. On the other hand, only 14 percent of rural Chinese are thriving when it comes to their community well-being.

The survey’s findings underscore that — despite the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao administration’s constant pledges to concentrate on rural residents — the rural-urban divide remains the predominant one among Chinese citizens. On the other hand, the survey suggests that the current Chinese administration’s efforts to increase the pace of urbanization should generally increase the well-being of Chinese citizens and likely strengthen regime stability.