Sat, July 13

The truth about income in China in 2023: earning 100,000 RMB a year, what level does it belong to nationwide?

Is earning 100,000 RMB a year considered wealthy? This is a question I recently came across, and it left me feeling somewhat perplexed. It seems like the internet world and real life are two parallel universes. On the internet, there are claims of people like the “Pancake Auntie” earning 30,000 RMB a month, interns making 50,000 RMB a month, and food delivery drivers earning 1.02 million RMB in three years. While I do not doubt the authenticity of these cases, they are certainly few and far between. In real life, there are over a billion people who do not reach such income levels. In small county towns, a monthly salary of three to four thousand RMB is considered relatively high. In rural areas of Northwest China, many people face arduous labor with annual incomes barely enough to make ends meet. Recent economic data reveals a harsh reality, prompting me to discuss a sobering topic with you today: the truth about income in China in 2023. So, what does an annual income of 100,000 RMB really signify? And why is there such a significant disparity between income levels in the internet world and the real world?

On January 17, 2024, the National Bureau of Statistics released data showing that the median per capita disposable income was 30,036 yuan, an increase of 5.3% compared to the previous year. This translates to approximately 2,753 yuan per month. If your monthly income exceeds this amount, it means that your income is higher than half of the population nationwide. You may be surprised because you rarely encounter people with such low incomes. This is because the sample size of the statistics is very large, and the incomes of many people are averaged out. Among these averaged individuals, many are the “voiceless” in the internet world, such as older individuals in rural and small-town areas who are not adept at using the internet and are unlikely to leave comments. However, they represent the most authentic majority in the statistical sample. So, what does an annual income of 100,000 yuan mean in China?

In China, an annual income of 100,000 yuan signifies a relatively comfortable level of income. It is above the national median income and indicates that the individual is likely to have a higher standard of living compared to a significant portion of the population. This income level may allow for more financial stability, the ability to afford better quality goods and services, and potentially save for the future. However, it is important to consider factors such as regional cost of living, individual expenses, and lifestyle choices when assessing the significance of a 100,000 yuan annual income.

A statistical analysis was conducted where all surveyed households were ranked according to their per capita income levels from high to low, and then divided into five groups, each consisting of approximately 300 million people. As of 2023, the data shows that the per capita income of the low-income group is 9,215 yuan, equivalent to a monthly income of 768 yuan; the per capita income of the high-income group exceeds 95,000 yuan, equivalent to a monthly income close to 8,000 yuan; and households with an annual income of 100,000 yuan, equivalent to a monthly income exceeding 8,300 yuan, are stably in the top tier. Further analysis reveals that since the average income is often higher than the median income, households in the high-income group with a monthly income of 8,000 yuan also belong to a relatively high level. Therefore, the conclusion is that households with an annual income of 100,000 yuan are at least above the income level of 90% of households nationwide. Additionally, it is noted that the data of the highest income group exceeds that of the lowest income group.

This phenomenon reveals another reality. According to the 2021 China Income Distribution Report, in 2020, the top 1% of residents in China in terms of wealth held 30.6% of the total national wealth. In other words, the wealthiest 1% of people control 30% of the total wealth. The distribution of personal wealth is increasingly resembling a Pareto distribution. The lives of the rich are beyond the imagination of the average person, while the lives of the poor may also be unimaginable. Many young people in big cities cannot understand why items like instant noodles for 10 yuan for 20 packs, wedding dresses for 38 yuan each, and sanitary pads for seven yuan for 40 bags sell so well on platforms like Pinduoduo. By looking at income data, perhaps you can understand the reasons behind this. However, what is fascinating is that in the online world, income takes on a different appearance. A monthly salary of 10,000 yuan is just a starting point, and within one or two years after graduating from university, it is very likely that the monthly salary could exceed 50,000 yuan. If one is unhappy with their job, they can resign at any time and travel the world.

Recently, a recruitment website released a report on the trends and prospects of university graduates’ employment in 2023, revealing the recruitment and employment situation of graduates nationwide. The data shows that the average monthly salary offered by companies is 13,420 yuan, with Beijing leading the pack with a monthly salary exceeding 13,000 yuan, followed by Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. At the bottom of the list is Zhengzhou in Henan Province, with a monthly salary of over 8,400 yuan. If these data are extrapolated nationwide and are authentic, it is equivalent to telling every stock investor that they made a profit of 30,000 yuan from stock trading last year, which is enlightening.

Additionally, according to the 2022 China Undergraduate Employment Report released by the Maixi Research Institute, only 47.7% of the 2016 undergraduate graduates achieved a monthly income exceeding ten thousand yuan after five years of graduation. In contrast, for the 2021 undergraduate graduates, the average monthly salary in the early stages of employment was just over 1800 yuan, with nearly sixty percent of graduates earning less than 6000 yuan per month. Only 6.1% of the graduates managed to reach a monthly income exceeding ten thousand yuan.

In addition to the job market, the film and television industry also distorts people’s perception of poverty. Have you noticed that popular TV dramas nowadays have lost the ability to depict the lives of the poor? Last year’s hit urban drama “Heart’s Desire” is a prime example, telling the story of two sisters struggling in Beijing. Despite the director’s attempt to portray the image of the poor, the younger sister, who wants to work in a milk tea shop and needs her sister’s 500 yuan support each month to make ends meet, quickly reveals her vanity. She wants to change her phone and considers buying a second-hand phone for 3800 yuan, eventually bargaining it down to 2000 yuan, but remains unsatisfied. However, 2000 yuan is already enough to buy a decent new phone. What’s even more puzzling is that they live in a quadrangle courtyard within the Second Ring Road of Beijing, with three bedrooms, two living rooms, and a large courtyard, furnished in a petite bourgeois style with sofas, coffee tables, desks, and dressing tables. Such a property, based on current housing prices, is estimated to be worth around one billion yuan.

The two sisters often sit on the rooftop, drinking tea and chatting, with a view of the tall buildings in the center of Beijing. The older sister curiously asks the younger one, do you know how expensive the property prices are in those areas? Is the place where you currently live expensive? In the TV drama “Northbound and Southbound”, several designers either go fishing or rock climbing, living in luxurious homes of several hundred square meters, while still reminding the young audience: you have chosen the wrong profession, you are not suitable for the current job, you should love what you do. Translated, it means, you are poor because you are not working hard enough. Apart from being unrealistic, there is also a polarization of poor people in TV dramas. Poor people can generally be divided into two types: one type floats in the sky, although poor, they live a comfortable life, like in a wish-fulfillment story; the other type is poor and malicious, greedy, lustful, envious, scheming, setting traps for the main characters, making the audience itch with hatred. For example, in “Ode to Joy”, Fan Shengmei’s mother greedily takes her daughter’s money to support her son and the whole family; in “I Am Yu Huanshui”, the protagonist’s father causes trouble in his son’s company for money, acting shamelessly.

In general, many portrayals of poor people in TV dramas are exaggerated to be artificial, paranoid, lacking in culture, manners, and quality. They are depicted as unable to see others succeed, only knowing how to throw tantrums and behave in the most despicable manner. Kindness and self-respect seem to be exclusive to the wealthy. Authentic portrayals of impoverished life in film and television are very rare, and their reputation is not good. For example, the movie “Hidden in the Dust”, despite being made with a small budget of 2 million, eventually grossed 110 million at the box office. However, it was criticized by some netizens who believed that the portrayal of the rural life of the Ma family, who couldn’t afford to buy things and considered even eating eggs a luxury, was unrealistic and tarnishing their image. Just over two months later, this movie was inexplicably removed from all online platforms. Some netizens expressed that at the moment of removal, the artistic value of this movie reached its peak. In contrast, in popular urban life idol dramas, the romanticized plots about poor people are like a fantasy filter, portraying ordinary life as if it were a fairy tale, making viewers unintentionally believe that it is the norm.

However, what is the real world like? In 2010, there was a very lifelike documentary that depicted how ordinary people face life. Now, a street vendor selling pancakes has been arrested, but he can’t stop smiling in front of the camera. When the director asked him why he was so happy, he said it’s warmer inside than outside, and anyway, he wasn’t allowed to sell outside. As evening approached, the police arrested another group of street vendors, including a young girl selling pistachios, who had a very cheerful personality and always had a bright smile when talking to anyone. However, when the police asked her why she was brought to the police station, the smile on the girl’s face instantly disappeared. The first time you see it, it feels difficult to earn money. After a while, a homeless man walked in sobbing and said, “I’ve lost something valuable.” When the police asked him what he had lost, he said, “I’ve lost myself.” This is also a true portrayal of ordinary people, without fans, without filters. However, in the online world, these are not admired, not positive enough, and the words “sunshine” and “refined” seem to have become taboo for the poor.

In the realm of the internet, food bloggers complain about the poor taste of a $10,000 Australian lobster, travel bloggers boast about the experience of staying in a $750,000 presidential suite, and question-and-answer platforms teach people how to earn $500,000 in a year. These pieces of information are widely spread, making it seem like the whole world is secretly amassing wealth, with riches and knowledge being divided. More and more people find themselves trapped in their own cocoons of information, while personal experts become detached from reality. It is suggested that individuals rent out their homes to increase income and that impoverished individuals drive from cities to rural areas to engage in farming. However, among those who have entered the online world, those born into privileged families are the minority, with monthly incomes possibly as low as three to five thousand dollars, while ordinary people striving to make a living are abundant. This is the true backdrop of the real world. Angry protests cannot change the current situation. I believe that only by seeing the real world can our love become more powerful, and this is what makes the greatest heroes.