David Wertime

Is 10,000 RMB per Month Enough? Not If 10 RMB Buys Half a Hamburger

What is “a lot” of money in China, anyway? With over one million US-dollar millionaires in China and counting, the country’s currency doesn’t go as far as it used to. A delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference recently irked China’s blogosphere by suggesting China issue higher-denomination bills. Although that idea has been officially shelved, China’s wealth inequality continues to trend dangerously high. China’s own state-run media admits as much.

Not surprisingly, discussion has recently broken out on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, about the value of a redback. Well-known talk show host Mr. Cui Yongyuan recently tweeted that his 10,000 RMB monthly salary was “not enough,” despite being more than twice China’s average of 4,000 RMB per month. According to Sina, Cui wrote, “It is very difficult to find a feeling of happiness with money matters.” He said the time that he “felt most rich, most like a millionaire” was in 1986. At that time his monthly salary was 80 RMB, but he felt he could not spend it all. Since then, much has changed.

It is surely a sign of the times that netizens have largely voiced sympathy. @婷婷丫头S complained, “From the beginning of the month up to today I’ve gone through my monthly pay.” @梦_小_猪 complained, “A new apartment in Beijing averages 30,000 RMB or more per square meter. For a famous person [like Cui], his income really isn’t that high.”

@王旖旎_凡龠 described how much China has changed: “My grandpa and grandma together made 130 [RMB] a month when there were young and that was enough to raise three generations, and they had two pairs of children. My grandpa was an engineer when he was young, my grandma was a cadre. … at that time money had a lot of value. For 20,000 RMB you could build a house … truly, reform and opening is a double-edged sword.”

A minority asked Mr. Cui to cry them a river. @IBD_jonathanlee wrote, “People’s desires are like a bottomless pit.” @暴力小子_大只雯 added, “Only a certain portion of people can have such an income. For a laborer, 2,000 RMB or more [per month] is already quite good.” @香波波82 simply chortled, “Every age has its suffering.”

Just how much do today’s Chinese suffer? It depends. In a separate Weibo discussion, netizens have been answering the question, “What does 10 RMB buy?” For the curious, Tea Leaf Nation has compiled some netizen results. Dear readers, keep your pocketbooks handy; China isn’t cheap anymore.


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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.