Arthur Kroeber
Arthur Kroeber

The term ´middle class´ shows up in almost every analysis on China. But economist Arthur Kroeber, author of China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know®, thinks the term creates more confusion than clarity, he explains to Knowledge CKGSB.


When trying to understand this new group of people—an unprecedented middle to Chinese society —the first task is to get a grip on the slippery terminology.

“My preference is to discard the term ‘middle class’ because it comes with certain freight,” says Arthur Kroeber, co-founder of Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm based in Beijing.

As Kroeber explains it, someone of Fu Cong’s description aligns very closely with what we think of the Western middle class—home, car, vacation, white-collar job, the whole lot. But identification of people with a certain lifestyle can get in the way of understanding the significance of this group within China.

“Because you use the word ‘middle,’ I think everyone has embedded in their mind that if you did an income distribution curve, [they are] the people who are in the middle,” says Kroeber. “But by even the most generous estimate, this is a small minority of the total population, and it basically represents the economic elite in China, so it’s not the ‘middle’ of anything.”

More in Knowledge CKGSB.

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