china's heating crisisWhile many in the developed world think of heat in the winter as a basic need, many people are impacted by China’s heat crisis and spend every long winter season without a central heating system in their home. A clear geographical line divides those who have basic central heating in their homes and those who do not. Heat was afforded to the northern portion of China whose occupants experienced the coldest and harshest winter seasons. However, though temperatures often dip below freezing in the southern region, many residents suffer from inadequate heating and thin walls that provide them sub-par protection from the frigid temperatures. More fortunate residents can afford to own and power a space heater designed for small rooms and short amounts of time for some comfort, but many without any heating devices report resorting to measures such as turning on their air conditioning since the air it will produce is warmer than the air in their home.

History of Heating in China

The decision to ration heat in China came in the 1950s when officials came to the realization that they did not have the resources or energy capacity to heat the vast and populous country. China’s heating crisis started when the north was perceived as in the highest need because the region experienced lower temperatures and higher levels of snowfall. However, the country failed to factor in the harsh conditions of cities on the east coast of China, such as Shanghai, where, while they don’t see much snowfall, rainfall and wind make for low wind-chills and blustery conditions.

For the homes located in the north, the government controls the heat and keeps every home at a consistent 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Lacking control over their heat consumption can lead to financial strain for the lower-class Chinese residents who struggle to afford the mandated cost of their heating bill. 

“Generally, a 70-square-meter apartment in Beijing costs around 2,100 yuan ($317.36) just to heat every winter, which is quite expensive for low-income families,” a Chinese journalist said when describing China’s heating crisis.

To make ends meet, this may leave them with no choice but to ration in other areas such as regular groceries and other essentials.

Updating the System

For the majority of its existence, China’s central heating system has been operated on a coal-burning based system. To accommodate every home in the north, a great deal of coal has to be burnt every year. Before the 2017 upgrade, in which many systems were converted to burn natural gas, China was one of the world’s largest consumers of energy with the amount of coal used being a large contributing factor. This has come at the expense of several negative implications to the environment which has directly contributed to China’s severe air pollution problem that worsens climate change and public health.

China’s Heating Future

Southern citizens are waiting on the government to construct a central heating plan to warm the homes in the south, but it never seems to be a priority. In response to the lack of government intervention in China’s heat crisis, wealthier Chinese residents have opted to install heating systems in their homes at their own cost. While it may take a while for the government to provide lower-income families with central heat, heat becoming the cultural norm is sure to shift public opinion and put pressure on the government to devise a way to provide every home with adequate heating. In addition, the Chinese government is planning to implement a “New Green Deal” that will make it more affordable to heat homes by using cheaper energy sources and providing government help to pay the bills.

– Samantha Decker
Photo: Pikist

Using Streaming to Make an Income
For many rural citizens of China, earning a living is an unproductive grind. More than one-third of the country’s working population consists of rural migrant workers. Despite the long and difficult hours of labor, the average income of these jobs is only approximately 45,000 yuan (less than $6,400 USD). That amount is enough to cover the laborers’ expenses and send some money home to their families but is not enough to ensure long-term financial stability.

Not only are the wages low, but the work conditions are poor. Laborers often resort to living in overcrowded dormitories or apartments that cost a large portion of their monthly salaries. There are hardly any welfare benefits in any migrant-based jobs and social insurance is rare. Workers also struggle to acquaint themselves with their new locales. Hardly any have enough free time to truly settle into their new cities and report feeling isolated and out of place.

Such occupations can no doubt feel limiting. That is why some people in bleak working environments make their own careers. With some ingenuity and with technology as simple as a smartphone, impoverished laborers are continually improving their quality of life. Here is the story of a person who used streaming to make an income.

From Working Construction to Streaming Chickens

Liu Jinyin, a Chinese chicken farmer in Luzhou, Sichuan province,  used to struggle with his meager migrant worker’s salary. Making just 48,000 yuan (around $6,750 USD) annually, Liu worked in construction, followed by a facility that manufactured zippers. After that, he worked as a goat breeder. In his former jobs, he was unhappy with both his wages and his quality of life.

In early 2017, he decided to try something new. With his smartphone and a live streaming app, he began sharing everyday life on his family’s rural farm. He wanted to tap into the ever-growing streaming market in China. Liu features his morning chores, various maintenance projects on the farm and descriptions of the flora and fauna that he encounters every day, among other activities. Gradually, he began to amass a following while streaming to make an income. Urban Chinese often commented that they used to live in rural areas and enjoyed the videos because they reminded them of home. People from other areas of the world were simply fascinated with the way of life and liked the casual look into someone else’s routine.

Tapping into his entrepreneurial side, Liu began to develop a regular schedule for his casual streams. His fanbase responded, and he now has nearly 200,000 followers and makes $1,500 USD per month. Best of all, he is able to stay home and work on his family’s farm full-time. While some of the inhabitants of his hometown were apprehensive about his new line of work, Liu paid his critics no mind. “I’m… now able to stay at home to take care of my parents. Everyone’s happy. This has changed me,” he once remarked.

Other Ways Technology Can Share Prosperity

Liu developed a following with nothing more than a good idea and a smartphone. He now makes nearly three times his prior income in a much more comfortable environment. There is no reason why anyone else in his situation could not find the same success if they had the right tools to do so.

Streaming to make an income is not necessarily the only option either. Some people use basic technologies to make and share videos, advertise their handmade goods or seek microloans to own and operate local businesses. With the proper tools, people living in or near poverty can better support themselves, their families and their communities. Remote entrepreneurs do not have to worry about commuting and have the freedom to tend to their homes and young children while working. Often, the global market is better for the sale of specialty items, like jewelry or art pieces. Access to a bigger market generates more profits.

Ways Anyone Can Help

When business people begin their ventures, they primarily need customers to interact with. A person can visit websites that sell fairly-produced handmade goods to offer support. One can also engage with men and women on microloan services, many of whom share interesting and inspirational stories.

From a political perspective, it is also important to support the Digital GAP Act, currently in the U.S. Senate. This bill would allocate funds to give 1.5 billion people first-time internet access by 2020. Not only would this legislation improve educational, political and societal operations, but a huge number of people would have better economic opportunities thanks to its implementation.

Liu Jinyin’s story is a great example of how no career should be off-limits for anyone, no matter their background. It also shows a small glimpse of how the newest generation of impoverished young adults is using modern technologies to improve their lives. Whether it is buying art or watching chickens, one can give these hardworking people support. The story of a Chinese chicken farmer streaming to make an income is truly amazing.

– Molly Power
Photo: Flickr

Regional Inequality
China’s regional inequality has historically been an issue. It is common for developed countries to have regional wealth and income disparity between rural and urban areas. Enormous wealth inequality exists between rural and urban regions of China with 90 percent of all poverty being rural poverty.

The Current State of Regional Inequality in China

Along with China’s regional poverty, an educational disparity has widened within China. The government has supported and subsidized education in urban centers but neglected to invest in opportunities for rural education. Since the 1950s, rural attendance at the Universities of Tsinghua and Peking has declined from over 50 percent to less than 20 percent in 2005 despite the rural population making up the majority of China’s population at that time. The lack of educational opportunities in rural communities in China has fed into the downward spiral of stagnation for such regions, as an educated populace is a crucial asset for creating economic growth.

Previous Efforts to Combat Regional Inequality in China

Recently, the Chinese government has recognized the need to address the growing problem of China’s regional inequality and has enacted a series of relatively new but ambitious policies to tackle the crisis.

China proposed the first of these in 1999. The Great Western Development Strategy is a $1 trillion (Chinese Yuan) development plan that aims at investing in development and growth in the inland Western Regions of the country. The plan slowly began in the early 2000s with spending on infrastructure projects in the west.

One of the most major projects was the construction of the West-East gas pipeline which began in 2002 and ended in 2005. This was a very ambitious project that created numerous jobs and revenue for the west while also benefitting the east coast. Other energy initiatives focused largely on the creation of hydropower plants throughout the region. Other infrastructure projects have focused on transportation. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the Southern Xinjiang Railway finished in the mid-2000s as a part of the strategy. These new railways employed many people and improved transportation substantially in their respective regions.

The Great Western Development Strategy also hopes to entice foreign investments in the region. The primary strategies for this objective are environmental conservation and improvement in educational opportunities. The plan has waived tuition fees for compulsory education in west China in hopes of improving the overall education of its citizens. Huge ecological conservation policies, such as Returning Grazing Land to Grassland seek to convert vast swaths of farmland into natural grasslands, as well as protect and expand forestry.

Recent Efforts to Combat Regional Inequality in China

The Northeast Revitalization Plan aims to rebuild traditional industries in the northeast, but with added economic and environmental regulations. The plan has also abolished taxes on agricultural workers and farmers, hoping this policy will be favorable towards the regions declining agricultural industry.

The new proposal, the Rise of Central China Plan, focusses on improving China’s agricultural heartland. Many often refer to Central China as “China’s Breadbasket.” The region has experienced only a fraction of the growth that coastal regions have undergone. As of 2002, the region’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was only 75 percent the national average. The Rise of Central China Plan will promote investment in advancements in agricultural techniques and technology with the hopes of increasing farming efficiency and creating larger yields in the region.

This is especially important for China as the issue of food security has risen for the highly populated nation. The Rise of Central China Plan also focuses on the development of transportation infrastructure in central China. A huge reason for central China’s economic stagnation has been lack of sufficient transportation, which has stifled its growth despite the region’s abundance of natural resources such as coal and its massive population.

Regional inequality in China has deep roots in past policies. The rural-urban divide has prompted a wave of bold new reforms aimed at combatting rural poverty and though the effort has just begun, these programs are showing promising results.

Karl Haider
Photo: Flickr

wealth in inequality in china
It is a well-known fact that China is one of Asia’s -and the world’s- wealthiest nations. In the past two decades, China has made strides in eliminating poverty by reducing 60 percent of the population living in extreme poverty in 1990 to 10 percent in 2010. However, using the Gini coefficient, an inequality measurement that ranges from 0-1, where 0 means complete economic equality and 1 means the richest person has all the income, wealth inequality in China verges on 0 .5, with 0.4 being regarded as the international warning level of dangerous inequality.

Unrealistic Precedents

The rising average income of 21,586.95 yuan or about $3,142.11 is not as realistic, however. The median income for China is 18,371.34 yuan or about $2,674.06. The downsizing of poverty and growing economy has not impacted all parts of China equally. There is still a large amount of wealth inequality in China. Depending on the region and type of economy, certain areas make more than others. According to 2015 data, Shanghai and Beijing, both very urban areas, make almost 50,000 yuan each, while the poorer, rural areas like Xizang, Gansu, and Guizhou make less than 40,000 yuan combined.

When data like living standards and housing prices are compared by province, there is a stark disparity between the economic conditions of rural and urban areas. Urban areas tend to make much more money than their rural counterparts. Along with this, despite rapid urbanization, 50.3 percent of China’s population, almost half a billion, is rural.

The Role of Education and Finance

One of the underlying causes of wealth inequality in China is the lack of education. Many rural areas lack access to schools and higher education, so although there is a large amount of higher-level jobs available, many Chinese cannot lift themselves up academically in order to access these jobs successfully. Because of this, rural Chinese are more likely to have lower-paying jobs or be self-employed in agricultural jobs. Thus, they will not make as much money.

Another cause of wealth inequality in China is that food costs are more. The Engel coefficient, which works the same as the Gini coefficient but measures food costs, is lower for urban areas than rural areas, even though urban areas have higher gross incomes. Housing is also less expensive in urban areas, leading to a higher surplus of disposable income for already-wealthy urban inhabitants.

According to China’s banking regulator, at least 50 counties in Tibet, Yunnan, and Sichuan are unbanked, which means they even lack access to banks and financial services. Rural Chinese lack a lot of other basic resources like cars and clean water as well.

Hope for the Future

While it may seem like not much is being done to help the rural poor, some policies are being put in place by China to address the issue. In 2013 China started its “35 Point Plan” also known as the Income Distribution Plan. It has goals to increase the minimum wage, spend more on public education and affordable housing, and provide overall economic security. In 2006, the Chinese government also abolished the agricultural tax and prohibited local governments from collecting fees. Social welfare policies and taxation reform, along with policies to improve the equality of education combined have slowly but steadily decreased the Gini coefficient to below 0.5 from 2008, which was its all-time high.

Nadine Argott-Northam
Photo: Media-Public