China 2.0

China’s Worrying 1%, Wealth Inequality Of Epic Proportions

A new study shows income and asset inequality in China has reached epic proportions, with the top undertaxed and the bottom at grave social risk because of a lack of civil protection.

Beggar in Beijing, China
Beggar in Beijing, China
Tao Shun

-Analysis-

BEIJING â€" The "1%" figure has received a lot of attention over the last couple of weeks. And in fact, it's a useful way to observe what has gone horribly wrong in China socioeconomically speaking.

One group represents the top 1% of Chinese households, which a recent Beijing University study says own one-third of the national wealth. In other words, income and asset inequality is worsening.

Meanwhile, the bottom 1% is comprised of the 13 million so-called hei-hu or "black households," families whose parents gave birth to several children while the country's notorious one-child policy was in force. They are overwhelmingly poor families, whose parents still risk being charged the "social compensation fee," a severe financial penalty, for violating the policy that was finally ended in October. Because the government has so far failed to grant any exemptions for families who had children "illegally," these households fear that reporting their children now â€" so that they can obtain proper citizenship for them â€" might provide the proof necessary for authorities to issue fines.

These two 1% groups represent the extremes of Chinese society. The wealthy reside at the top, and those of them who had more children than officially allowed would have no trouble paying the fine or bribing a corrupt official to obtain proper citizenship for their children.

Meanwhile, most of the parents in the hei-hu households can't afford the astronomical sum. Not only do the children in these families live without proper identities â€" therefore excluding them from schools and jobs â€" they aren't even entitled to buy so much as train tickets!

These two unrelated groups of people form a contemporary Chinese fable. As famous commentator Xiao Feng put it sarcastically, "While the top 1% doesn't necessarily care to possess their Chinese nationality, the bottom 1% would like to have one, but are denied it."

Beggar in China in the 1900s â€" Photo: JT Vintage/Glasshouse/ZUMA

Sadly, the reality is that without any basic civil protection in the long term, the bottom 1% will fall even further into abject poverty.

This Beijing University report is based on a survey tracing 14,960 families in 25 provinces, with the aim of shedding light on their livelihoods and various situations, in addition to the the causes and social mechanisms at play.

We need to reflect on what political, economic and social causes lead to this inequality.

Take taxes as an example. China's tax burden is mainly born by the middle- and lower-income classes. The tax burden on wealthy Chinese people is much lighter than in foreign peer countries. Dong Mingzhu, the CEO of China's white goods giant Gree and among the country's richest businesswomen, said it plainly: "Certain bosses claim all their personal expenses as their firm's costs so they pay next to nothing as income tax."

From educational opportunities to income inequality to health care, major social issues in China have a tendency to worsen, mostly because of government policy.

President Xi Jinping has vowed that the Thirteenth Plan, the national economic development blueprint for 2016 to 2020, will help China build a moderately prosperous society. The anxiety about China's 13 million people who comprise the social bottom concerns the entire country. Whether the problem is derived from an historical legacy or from a contemporary one, it must be resolved.

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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