Lijia Zhang: Why fixing inequality is central to China’s common prosperity goal

Lijia Zhang

In a recent opinion piece for South China Morning Post, Lijia Zhang shared why she believes dealing with the issue of the China’s wealth inequality is vital to achieving the country’s common prosperity goal.

Here are some quotes:

The structural flaws inherent in China’s political system – from state-controlled capitalism to corruption – have all contributed to the problem. The top 10 per cent income share rose from 27 per cent in 1978 to 41 per cent in 2015, approaching levels seen in the United States, according to research by economist Thomas Piketty and his colleagues.

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So far, though, none of the measures taken have proven to be game changers. No fiscal or redistribution policies have taken hold, and China is struggling to achieve its goals in terms of wealth redistribution.

To give the government credit, there have been some efforts to deal with income inequality, primarily aimed at resolving extreme poverty. Official figures indicate some 800 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty.

Besides reforming redistribution schemes and a regressive tax system, common prosperity demands a better social safety net for those less fortunate and more equal access to healthcare and education. Education used to be an equaliser, but now it has been made into an industry. Children from poor, rural areas stand little chance at competing with their richer urban cousins.

The privileges of state-owned enterprises should be limited, and the private sector should be allowed equal access to financial services and bank loans so it can also flourish. Carrying out those reforms will require the authorities to embrace greater liberalisation and move away from the “party leads everything” mantra – something they might hesitate to do.

zhang lijiaLijia Zhang a rocket-factory-girl-turned writer, columnist and public speaker, and one of the few Chinese social commentators who write in English for international publications.

She was born into a poor working class family in Nanjing, on the banks of Yangtze River. Excelled at school, she dreamt of becoming a writer and a journalist. In 1980, aged 16, she was dragged out of school and put to work at a military factory that produced intercontinental missiles. It lasted for a decade. As an escape route, she taught herself English and took solace in literature.Socialism is Great

She arrived in England in 1990, and a childhood dream stirred. She studied journalism. Returning to China three years later, she started her career by helping foreign correspondents before becoming a journalist in her own right. It was a struggle to write stories in English, but compared to my western colleagues, she believed that she had something different to offer: her insight into a culture that still remains largely unknown outside China. Her articles, usually commentary pieces on China’s social, cultural and political changes, have been published in South China Morning Post, Far Eastern Economic Review, Japan Times, The Guardian, Newsweek and The New York Times.

A book of oral history of modern China commissioned by Oxford University Press whetted her appetite for book writing. She penned a memoir about her factory experience in the 80s’ which also reflected the great social transformation in China brought by the reforms and opening up. It enjoyed world-wide success.

She then launched her first fiction project – Lotus, which tells the story of a young working girl, set in modern day Shenzhen, known as China’s ‘capital of sins’. Like the city itself, Lotus is torn between the past tradition and modern desires. It was published by Macmillan in 2017. Lijia has lectured at many top universities, institutions, banks, and business conferences around the world, including Columbia University, Stanford, Harvard, London Business School, European Institute For Asian Studies and Eu-Asia Top Economist Round Table Forum. I’ve been featured on the BBC, Channel 4, ABC (Australian), Aljazeera, CNN, NPR, among other international media.

Specific Accomplishments:

Described by Tony Blair as “an inspiring example of promoting the understanding between China and Britain” in his keynote speech during his state visit to China in 1998.

Voted one of the “40 Beijing heroes” by TimeOut Beijing, October, 2008

Subject of a BBC documentary Peschardts People, May 2009

Recipient of the prestigious International Writer’s Program, University of Iowa, sponsored by the US State Department, 200

Contact us if you would like to engage Lijia Zhang to speak at your next event.