The average Chinese private-sector worker earns about the same as a cleaner in Thailand

China's Transition
China's Transition

Chinese internet users are abuzz about an online tool that calculates how one’s annual wages compare with those around the world. And many of them aren’t happy to know how little they make compared to their peers.

According to CNN’s online global wage calculator, which uses data from the International Labor Organization, the average annual salary of a worker in China’s private sector was 28,752 yuan (about $4,755) in 2012, or 38% of the global average. That’s roughly the same as a cleaner in Thailand, according to CNN’s data. (It’s also 4% of the average American CEO’s annual pay and only 0.01% of what the Queen of England makes in a year, in case you were wondering.)

public sector wage china
How the average annual salary of a private-sector worker in China compares with the rest of the world. (CNN Global Wage Calculator)

These figures are circulating Chinese social media, generating over 13,000 posts on Sina Weibo, as internet users complain that their modest wages don’t match China’s status as the world’s second-largest economy. (There is some nuance, of course, related to the purchasing power of a smaller salary in China compared with the same amount in more advanced economies, but this doesn’t get much of an airing in these debates.) One blogger said (registration required), “So China is very rich but Chinese people are very poor.” One called on Chinese president Xi Jinping, writing, “China is that poor? Does Big Xi know?” Another simply said, “Where is my money?”

The discussion highlights the uneven distribution of wealth that persists amid China’s rapid economic growth. China has the world’s most billionaires after the US, according to a report by Wealth-X and UBS. At the same time, 18 provinces have downgraded their expectations for per capita disposable income this year, and overall measures of inequality in China only improved a smidgeon last year, according to government statistics.

Bloggers found that even higher-range Chinese salaries don’t fare very well in the global league tables. The average salary for public-sector workers is around 60% higher than the equivalent in the private sector, but is still only 60% of the global average. Using CNN’s tool, Chinese media plugged in government figures for the country’s “high income” bracket of urban disposable income (link in Chinese)—and discovered that the closest equivalent is a taxi driver in South Africa.

public sector wage CNN
The average salary of a public sector worker in China. (CNN Global Wage Calculator)

Jennifer Chiu contributed additional reporting.

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