Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT
An "inspiring" story has been widely circulated on the mobile messaging app WeChat. A young man, who only earns a monthly salary of 8,000 yuan ($1,200), lived frugally for a year and hoped he could buy a house worth 3 million yuan in Tongzhou District, Beijing. In order to save money, he lived in a shared room, walked to work, ate cheaply, and didn't date, smoke or drink. Finally he managed to save 70,000 yuan one year later, then was able to buy a house, using only that money and 2.93 million yuan provided by his father.
As funny as the joke is, it's still a bitter one for the millions of people who cannot afford a house in the capital thanks to skyrocketing real estate prices.
The joke is on us. Should you not come from a rich family, it's impossible for the younger generation, usually 20-somethings, to own a house in the metropolis, no matter how much they strive and save.
Perhaps, house purchasing is where pin'die, or "competition of family background," matters the most. Given soaring house prices, the gap between the rich and the poor is being cemented every day. When it comes to a young propertied guy, it is hard not to believe that he must have a rich daddy. In contrast, the unpropertied often come from poor families, earn relatively stagnant salaries, and can do nothing but complain about the ever-rising price of housing and pray that it goes down some day.
Your "daddy" doesn't just matter in getting you a house, but in getting a job and a promotion. As it's becoming harder and harder to change their destiny through their own efforts, the young, who are supposed to be passionate and work industriously for their future, are losing the will to strive. If your path is going to be blocked by the privileged anyway, they argue, why bother? Yet family backgrounds are a source of privilege everywhere in the world.
A study by the German Institute for Economic Research in 2013 found that 40 percent of income inequality in Germany could be explained by family background. In the US, there are also rising concerns that social mobility is falling, and individual merit increasingly discounted.
At a time when family-background-related inequality has caused wide vigilance in developed countries such as the US and Germany, China should pay special attention to this symptom of widening inequality, which has far-reaching consequences.
The initial three decades of reform and opening-up have provided relatively fair and equal chances for people born into poor families to build up their fortune from scratch. But with the growing wealth gap, fiercer competition and mounting pressure of modern life, public discontent and demands to narrow the gap as well as ensure equality have been rising.
The vested interests of the new rich are one of the main obstacles to ensuring equality, for the Beijingers' fear that outsiders might get a share of their schools and hospitals to the growing stranglehold of the children of the rich on top university places. The government should mull over how to effectively ensure equal education, shape a fair and transparent environment for employment and curb skyrocketing real estate prices.
When people can't afford a roof over their heads, they get angry. We shouldn't ignore these warning signs.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org