Why Chinese people are more dignified than ever before
Published: Oct 01, 2021 10:54 PM

Photo:Beijing Daily

Today's Chinese people are more dignified than ever before, and one of the important reasons is that we are not as poor as before. 

I cannot remember how much Chinese nannies would earn in 1993, but their monthly salary was definitely very meager — I'd say less than 100 yuan ($15.5). I went to Yugoslavia as a correspondent that year, and met a young Chinese nanny working in the home of a US journalist. She was taken to Yugoslavia by the US journalist from China. She could earn as much as $400 per month, which was much more than what I was earning. Counting in various subsidies, I earned $295 a month back then. That year, I also learned in Greece that the monthly salary of a Filipino maid was about $300.  

When the Iraq War broke out in 2003, I met many maids from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Kuwait. They earned approximately over $300 per month. I also met a doctor from Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province. She downshifted to work as a nurse in Kuwait with a salary of $1,000 every month, the average amount that Chinese who went overseas for work could earn at that time. 

Being a nanny is not an easy job. Many of them have to leave their hometowns. Fortunately, today in Beijing, an ordinary domestic service staffer can earn about 5,000 yuan every month, while babysitters can earn 7,000 yuan and maternity matrons over 10,000 yuan. The lowest monthly income for home services is close to $800. Of course, given increased prices in China, the purchasing power of $800 to $1,000 is not as high as what it used to be. People may not feel strongly about their income increase, but from the perspective of global labor and resource distribution market, Chinese people are now in a more advantageous position than ever before. This is an important source for Chinese people's collective self-esteem.  

China's home service workers today can earn as much as teachers at universities in Serbia back when I worked there as a reporter. This offers ordinary Chinese citizens the opportunity to integrate into the global supply chain and enjoy high-quality and inexpensive products and services from all over the world. The value of Chinese labor is getting higher. People in China who had a middle-level job and earn a middle income used to admire the outside world, even countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. But the situation has fundamentally changed and is continuing to change.

The increase in nannies' income is of iconic significance. It shows that our society is gradually becoming more fair and equal. When I was young, there was a huge income gap between nannies from the countryside and residents in big cities. But now home service workers can earn approximately half of the average income of white-collar workers in Beijing. Rising salaries of home service workers are regrettably a burden for middle-class families living in cities, but this is the complicated process in which the gap between rural and urban areas and different regions gradually narrows through marketization. 

In general, Chinese people are living a moderately prosperous life. And many cities and villages in developed coastal regions have begun to move toward a high level of modernization.  

Of course, with increased income, people have higher demands and more expenditures, and environmental pressure is also increasing. Most families still feel that they are far away from achieving "financial freedom." I interviewed many families all over the world, and found that most of them lived on a tight budget. In other words, the lives of ordinary families in rich countries were not as good as I thought, and ordinary people in poor countries didn't live as poor as I thought. 

For instance, I visited the homes of several Japanese diplomats and reporters and felt that they lived quite ordinarily. I also paid visits to two ordinary families in Laos, one of the least developed countries in the world, but their situations were much better than I thought. 

Countries need to recall most of the currencies they issue. This is roughly the process in which we make money and then spend it. Almost no ordinary people can live a very abundant life. But differences lie in the quality of life, the houses people live in, and the standards for food, clothing, housing and transportation. The money we earn can be recycled through various consumption channels. Whatever the place is, ordinary families will only have a limited surplus, which means a limited sense of abundance.

However, Chinese people's quality of life has been steadily increasing over the years. It has been common for Chinese people to consume foreign products, including travelling abroad and sending their children to study overseas. Instead it has become a part of middle-class families' lives. Chinese people's lives have really become "globalized." 

This is a fundamental change in people's livelihoods in modern times, providing a new foundation for our dignity, and offering many people a broader stage in their lives. In the past, most Chinese people's lives were revolving in small circles. But now, even the most ordinary workers work in trans-regional jobs or as a part of the international division of labor. This means more potential career opportunities and collective levers to enhance the value of labor, though as individuals we may not be aware of them. 

On this special day, China's National Day, let's cheer up for our country. Our country is the most external shield for our personal interests, as well as an unperceived booster for our personal interests. A diplomat I know said 10 years ago that China has a very long border, but what is gratifying is that living standards of the people on the Chinese side of the border have surpassed those outside of it. This tendency will continue to strengthen. 

There are still many deficiencies in our country, and we have still a long way to go in terms of modernization. When it comes to the construction of social justice, many goals still need to be achieved, such as realizing common prosperity. We still have many difficulties to overcome. But people are living a more and more dignified life. This is a process that we move forward amid twists and turns while gradually accumulates achievements. When we look back, perhaps the most important thing is that we can find there is a momentum for continuous advancement. This applies to an individual, a society and a country. 

The author is editor-in-chief of the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn