Quote of the Day: Official Disposable Income Figures Derided as “Today’s Daily Dose of Humor”

On March 16, China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced that the Chinese economy was off to a good start in 2024, with reported 5.3% year-on-year GDP growth in the first quarter of the year. The better-than-expected data was touted by various Chinese state media outlets online, although many of those news posts had comment filtering enabled, perhaps in anticipation of negative or skeptical reactions from social media users. Two items in particular seemed to strike netizens as overly optimistic: the reported “nationwide average per-capita disposable income” figure of 11,539 yuan (equivalent to nearly $1600 U.S. dollars) for the first quarter of the year, and the claim that “the incomes of rural residents grew more quickly than those of urban residents.” 

Both were the subject of withering commentary from social media users, particularly on Weibo. CDT editors have compiled and translated some comments from Weibo users, many of them profoundly skeptical about the government figures on average per-capita disposable income:

洛晓洛跑得快呀: Today’s daily dose of humor has arrived.

寶公子Young: My salary has not increased by one cent, and prices haven’t gotten cheaper. I have no idea where they got this data, or how it supposedly increased.

墨卡不是摩卡: Why haven’t I been informed about when I can expect to receive my portion of this increase?

hikaru岚: I’ll never catch up to the average.

王海东15: As long as they [the people in power] are happy, that’s all that matters.

karlsnake: Does anyone believe this?

化做一粒尘: I just did a quick calculation, and my disposable income is about one hundred yuan (less than $14 U.S. dollars). Not bad. I’m very satisfied. After all, compared to the many workers whose wages are in arrears, I’m considered rich—seriously!

李小姓9863: As everyone knows, statistics is sorcery.

爱着帅哥的兔子君TVXQ: Data with Chinese characteristics.

谦哥理查德:  Read the comments, look at the data, and compare. Is this some new form of “exaggerated crop yields?” [Chinese]

Despite the strong first-quarter GDP growth, which appears to have been driven largely by manufacturing and external demand, the Chinese economy faces numerous challenges, including sluggish consumption, high youth unemployment, and a troubled property sector. A recent WeChat post from audacious entrepreneur and philanthropist Chen Guangbiao urging the Chinese government to bolster consumption by focusing on providing stable jobs, higher incomes, and a stronger social safety net earned many supportive comments from social media users. 

At Reuters, Chan Ka Sing reported on the conflicting economic indicators that make China’s economic recovery “a tale of at least two economies”:

An optimist will look at China’s latest GDP figures released on Wednesday and argue they signal that the best of times is returning. The country’s economy grew 5.3% in the first quarter year-on-year, comfortably beating analysts’ expectations of a 4.6% increase and putting Beijing on track to hit its 5% target for 2024. Yet beneath the headline number lies evidence that the People’s Republic has yet to put worse times behind it, not least near-zero inflation and sluggish lending and an enduring property market crisis. It’s a tale of at least two economies.

[…] Recent economic indicators have pointed to a rockier time ahead. Consumer inflation cooled more than expected in March and hovers around negative territory. An increase in monetary supply has also failed to translate into more bank lending. Fitch last week followed Moody’s by downgrading its outlook on China’s sovereign credit rating.

When meeting a group of U.S. business leaders last month, Xi said his administration is planning “a series of major steps” to propel China’s economy forward and that the Peak China theory will not be proved right. The remark has instilled expectations that the People’s Republic is serious about a new round of economic reforms. Such a diverse and often conflicting set of data, though, is complicating Beijing’s search for effective stimulus. [Source]


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