This capitalist Chinese island is more equal than the communist Chinese mainland

Taiwan’s democracy, seen here in action, is likely why its society is more equal than China.
Taiwan’s democracy, seen here in action, is likely why its society is more equal than China.
Image: AP Photo/Vincent Yu
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Taiwan, the island to which the then-Chinese government fled in 1949 after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s communist forces, has embraced a different development path from its mainland neighbor. Namely, free-market capitalism and democracy.

And those seem to be working out for them. Taiwan has more socioeconomic equality than mainland China’s Communist Party has managed so far, as Bloomberg writes here. In 2011, Taiwan had a Gini co-efficient—that’s the measure economists use to judge income equality—of 0.342, compared with China’s 0.474. (A lower Gini score indicates that a nation has a smaller wealth gap.) What’s more, China’s may be even higher than the official statistic—late last year, a Chinese university calculated the Gini co-efficient at 0.61 in 2010.

This is embarrassing for China’s new president Xi Jinping, who formally took office today and whose party has pledged, as Mao Zedong did all those years ago, to create a fairer society. China’s widening wealth gap has become a point of major social discontent in the last few years, and is something that the new administration says it will address.

One example of Taiwan’s fairer society is its healthcare system. The island also gives low-income households free or subsidized medical care, while employers generally pick up the tab for white-collar workers. And its hospitals tend to be clean as a pin, well staffed and, in many aspects, better then America’s.

Although China has been trying to develop a universal healthcare system, 31% of middle-class Chinese say they have difficulty accessing care in public hospitals. The nation also struggles to provide basic care to much of its rural population.

And while China spends around 4% of its GDP on education, the Taiwanese figure is much higher, at 5.8% (pdf p.24). A mainland Chinese student studying in Taiwan told the New York Times last year,” ”On the mainland, we’re all fighting to get ahead. There are fewer educational resources, such a big population and very few opportunities. Competition is fierce.” Reflecting on his experience in Taiwan, he added, “They have health care and enough money. So they can look around and think about the welfare of others.”

Marx and Lenin must be turning in their graves.