The Long March: Workers' wealth back in fashion

By Julie Middleton, Julie Middleton
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Emilly and Guang Min belong to the new Chinese revolution: the one that says it's okay to sell your skills and strive for money. It's a complete reversal of the Communist creed which for most of the 20th century condemned wealth in an attempt to create a socialist workers' paradise.

Emilly was a baby in the late 1970s when China's economic reforms began, a time when the state allotted housing through an individual's work unit and when families owned only basics - beds, tables, metal dishes, clothes.

Since 1978, economic reforms embracing private enterprise and private property have led to an acquisitive middle class, mainly in eastern China's cities.

Two snapshots of change: the Government permitted mortgages in 1997; private entrepreneurs are now allowed to join the Communist Party.

But with China still largely poor and agricultural, the middle class remains a minority.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has suggested that China's "middle stratum" - the authorities shy away from labels with class connotations - accounts for 19 per cent of the country's 1.3 billion people. Emilly and Guang Min are among them.

By the academy's reckoning, households with assets valued at 150,000 to 300,000 yuan ($24,500 to $51,000), are middle class.

It's also about lifestyle and discretionary income. Emilly and Guang Min eat out at local restaurants when they are too tired to cook after work, which is often. They visit fashionable high-priced bars, shop in the malls and go to American movies.

Emilly doesn't wear makeup, but she loves her beige, pointy-toed Pierre Cardin shoes.

Guang Min says that the big status symbols among his peers, after a car and apartment, are wide plasma-screen TVs. "People want a good life. Good pay. They want the lifestyle."

Mao Zedong, the architect of Chinese communism, would be appalled.

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