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Members of middle-income group adopt int’l outlook

By Liang Yucheng, Liu Heqing | 2016-08-22 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Several Chinese people pose in front of the Statue of Liberty in the United States. An investigation into lives of middle-income people in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou conducted by the Shanghai Academy shows that nearly one-third of the group have traveled abroad at least once.

Forming the backbone of economic growth, a strong middle-income group is essential for social stability. Growing in tandem with the rapid development that has taken place since the nation launched reform and opening up in the late 1970s, the size of the Chinese middle-income group has increased steadily—particularly in megacities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Middle-income people in China are affected more by globalization than those in the West. To better understand the group in this context, it is necessary to study their international consumption patterns as well as their exchanges with and attitudes toward people from other countries. One must also look at their desire to emigrate as well as the extent to which they view themselves as “global citizens.”

The different ways internationalization has affected the Chinese middle-income group can be seen in data released by the Shanghai Academy last year about the lives of the residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.


Foreign language
Members of the Chinese middle-income group have better language skills and tend to engage more in cross-border interaction than low-income people. According to the aforementioned data, nearly half of them are proficient in at least one foreign language, while that figure is less than 17 percent for the low-income group.


In addition, middle-income people have more opportunities to travel or study abroad. An analysis of the data on China’s megacities shows that almost 21 percent of middle-income people have been abroad twice or more in the past three years while more than 13 percent have been abroad once. Among the low-income group, the two proportions are only about 4.4 percent and about 4 percent, respectively.

Moreover, the level of interaction with people from foreign countries is an indicator of a person’s capacity to communicate on a global level. The investigation shows that nearly 20 percent of China’s middle-income group are acquainted with at least one person from a foreign country, while the number is about 5 percent for low-income people. Within the group, about 21 percent of men know at least one person from a foreign country, slightly higher than the proportion of women, which is about 18 percent.


Global consumption
Some distinctive trends can be observed in the consumption patterns of China’s middle-income group. One is the tendency to consider consumption an essential symbol of self-identity.
Globalization has facilitated the formation of a global consumer market, so consumption has likewise become increasingly internationalized.

In terms of diet, more than a quarter of people in the middle-income group buy imported food on a regular basis compared with the 10 percent of those in the lower echelon of society.

Within the middle-income group, there are significant differences that reflect generational gaps. Nearly 30 percent of young people aged between 15 to 34 years buy imported brands regularly, while the figure for those whose ages range from 35 to 55 is slightly lower at 26 percent. The group that buys foreign foods least often is those over the age of 56 years, with 16 percent.

In terms of recreation, nearly one-third of the middle-income group have traveled abroad at least once, while it is less than 11 percent of the low-income group. It is evident that the favorable economic conditions that members of the middle-income group enjoy enable them to buy more goods from abroad.


Impression on other countries
According to studies on the topic, a number of complicated factors influence people’s attitudes toward other countries, among which individual social and economic status are important elements. People with a higher social status tend to have more positive impressions of people from foreign countries.


The study looked at the attitudes of respondents toward 12 countries—the United States, Russia, Germany, South Korea, Japan, North Korea, the United Kingdom, India, Vietnam, France, South Africa and Nigeria—and analyzed the results to see how perceptions are shaped by people at different social levels.

Analysis has exposed the considerable differences between the two groups. To be specific, the middle-income group has favorable impressions toward developed nations and negative impressions toward underdeveloped countries while the opposite is true for those in the low-income group.

It should be noted that the elderly within the middle-income group have negative impressions toward developed countries, while young and middle-aged people have positive impressions. Generally speaking, despite their language abilities and willingness to engage in international communication, China’s middle-income people are more open to the idea of making contact with people from developed countries.


Intention of emigration
The desire of middle-income people to emigrate overseas has long been a concern for all walks of life. According to the investigation, nearly 8 percent of the middle-income respondents are considering emigrating overseas while the others have never considered it. By contrast, only 2 percent of the low-income respondents have considered emigrating.

In addition, the middle-income group shows more willingness to purchase property overseas. Of the members of this group, about 0.5 percent have purchased overseas property while less than 2 percent are planning to do so, and more than 4 percent are considering it. In each case, the figure is higher than that of the low-income group.

Though the proportion of the middle-income group who desire to emigrate and purchase property overseas is quite low relative to the size of the group as a whole, the Chinese government should still work on ways to avoid the outflow of talent, considering the group’s large population.

Moreover, nearly one-third of the middle-income group have relatives who have already emigrated, well above that of the low-income group at about 13 percent. The emigrants may in turn encourage domestic friends and relatives to follow suit. Therefore, it can be predicted that in the future, the middle-income group will be more likely to emigrate overseas than the low-income group.


International identity
By comparison, people from the low-income group are more inclined to accept the local identity, while those from the middle-income group tend to have an awareness of international identity.
Furthermore, the larger the investigated region is, the wider the gap is between the two groups of the region.


Liang Yucheng and Liu Heqing are from the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Sun Yat-Sen University.