China Leadership Monitor

The Political Implications of China’s Growing Middle Class

Monday, July 16, 2007

China’s middle class has developed rapidly over the past three decades. If one assumes that there was no one, or at least very few people, who could be considered middle class in 1978, there are now probably around 50 million people who can be considered middle class. Although the emergence of such a group in three decades is impressive, given the size of China’s population, it will be many years until we can speak of China as a middle-class society. In the meantime, despite indications that the middle class is more participatory than their economically less well off neighbors, there is no indication that the middle class—much less the wealthy—desires to challenge the political status quo. The fact that many more people identify themselves as middle class than can be reasonably classified as such by sociological criteria indicates that large swaths of Chinese society identify with middle-class aspirations. Alongside many fissiparous tendencies in China, this is one trend that suggests social cohesion.