Sunday, 5 December 2010
-A +A
Get to Know: Shanghai’s 7 Social Classes
October 7, 2010

The destitute scouring the ground for loose change, the affluent middle class with its vegetarian career women, the billionaires with their foreign green cards and mistresses… Shanghai’s society has seen it all.


We translated the information below from JFDaily (original article can be found here). The descriptions may be on the sarcastic side, but I do hope you won’t take them at face value, see the humour injected by the author of the article, and think about the social classifications and the circumstances surrounding them instead.


I. Extreme Poverty (Destitute)

Individual monthly income is below RMB 1,000. Annual household income is below RMB 30,000. They are mainly the unemployed and the beggars. These groups of people are primarily local Shanghainese.

Their mode of transportation is the bicycle. On certain occasions, they will take public transport. They have never set foot outside of Shanghai. Their pockets mostly contain loose change; and when they walk along the streets, their eyes would shift to the ground from time to time, hoping to find more loose change. They do not buy new clothes. They do not have meat for their meals. They can be seen lining outside the supermarkets as early as before 8am to buy the cheapest vegetables. Their mode of entertainment is watching television and strolling in the parks.

They live in shanties or resettlement houses in the outskirts of town. Outsiders (non-Shanghainese) live under bridges, in public squares, or wherever they can get a night’s sleep.


II. Working Class

Individual monthly income on the average is RMB 1,000 to 3,000. Annual household income on the average is RMB 30,000 to 50,000.

Generally, they are the sales people, construction workers, waiters and corporate/government personnel, among others. Resourceful beggars can be considered to be part of this class as well. Shanghainese and non-Shanghainese have the same social status.

Their main mode of transportation is the public bus and the metro. If they can take the bus, they would not take the metro. Their bags consist of three things: transportation card, umbrella and lunch box. They record their daily expenses religiously. Their mobile phones can only receive calls and cannot make outgoing calls. Girls enjoy shopping but can only afford to go to Qipu Lu (Qipu Road). They have one or two branded cosmetics and bags, which they must use when going out.

When meeting people for the first time, the first thing they will ask is, “How much money do you have with you right now?” When eating out, they never foot the bill. They like going to the bargain stalls with friends.

The guys do not have girlfriends. When they do, it is only temporary. They have a pair of leather shoes but can have several rubber/training shoes. They never buy new clothes as well. Married Shanghainese are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and depend on their parents. Their main form of entertainment is watching television and surfing the Internet (same as the middle-aged and elderly).

They live in small neighbourhoods with their family. Non-Shanghainese rent one-room apartments. They dare not think of buying a house or a car of their own.


III. White-Collar

Individual monthly income ranges from RMB 3,000 to 10,000. Annual household income ranges from RMB 50,000 to 150,000.

They are mostly the civil servants and staff working in private corporations, technical/skilled personnel, middle managers of enterprises, self-employed and starting businessmen.

At the same time, they look down on their fellow white-collars, preferring to speak in the local Shanghainese dialect as opposed to Mandarin.

They are the majority in the community and not to mention the ones feeling the most pressure from work and society.

They use private cars or the metro as their mode of transport and occasionally ride the taxi as a last resort. Non-married Shanghainese white-collars have a carefree lifestyle. But once they get married, they start feeling the pressure from their children’s education, the mortgage, etc. As such, most white-collars go DINK (Dual Income, No Kids). Since high school, they have “branded” dreams – dreams of getting the newest car models, gadgets, etc. At the same time, they look down on their fellow white-collars, preferring to speak in the local Shanghainese dialect as opposed to Mandarin. Their life is free and easy, oftentimes full of contradictions; but in reality they are the least confident of the “7 social classes”. They like karaoke, eating out (they know where the newest restaurant on the block is), and sometimes the 小资s like travelling around the country.

The non-Shanghainese white-collars are decidedly the most miserable. Their greatest dream is to buy their own house. They have a girlfriend for many years and live in a really small apartment (20 square metres). Those younger than 30 years old are idealistic fellows. But once they reach 30, reality finally sinks in. They enjoy surfing the Internet, watching television, strolling along the park, sometimes spending the weekends in hotels, and treating friends for a meal.

Shanghainese white-collars live with their parents. Non-Shanghainese white collars rent apartments. On cases, they buy their own houses and pay the mortgage the majority of their lives. Once they grew old, they live with their kids and use their retirement fund to pay for the house’s bills.


IV. Middle Class

The starting annual salary for individuals is RMB 150,000 to 400,000. Annual household income is RMB 200,000 to 500,000. They also have RMB 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 in assets. These are the executives of private enterprises, civil servants with “hidden” or “gray” incomes, senior technical staff, owners of private enterprises and people in the performing arts.

Either they already have extra-marital affairs or are prepared to have extra-marital  affairs.

They have a private car, most probably in the RMB 100,000 to 200,000 range. On rare occasions, they would take the metro. And when chatting with friends, they like to complain about the traffic jam. Most of them are married, but some regret it. Either they already have extra-marital affairs or are prepared to have extra-marital affairs. The single ones have girlfriends but keep changing them. The women want boy-friends but are not interested in boyfriends. The elders close to them are not their parents. The women close to them (the guys) are not their wives. Their mobiles phones are either busy or cannot be reached. They could be in a meeting, are driving, or flying (in planes).

Eating out is a form of entertainment (client lunches, dinner parties, etc.). Singing is a form of courtship (?) (抱妞). Looking for women is “work”. Looking for a wife is a “family responsibility”. The women are not “Misses”; rather they are 女强人 (strong women). From being meat-eaters, they become vegetarians. From driving their own cars, they turn to jogging instead. The Shanghainese do not like using their dialect. Instead, they speak in English. The outsiders, on the other hand, do not speak Mandarin. Instead, they like to use the Shanghai dialect. The majority of these middle-class folks are in the process of paying for their homes. A few have their own two-room houses already.


V. Wealthy Class (Millionaires)

Individual annual income is stable from RMB 400,000 to 2,000,000. Annual household income is stable from RMB 500,000 to 2,000,000. They have assets worth RMB 50,000,000.

These are the business owners and executives of really big corporations, celebrities, and the second-generation rich. Of these there are only a few non-Shanghainese.


Shanghai’s new rich, shopping

Shanghai's new rich, shopping


They are high-end car-buyers. BMW and Mercedez Benz are status symbols. They have at least two cars. They do not need to work, and the majority of them are married (just waiting for the second, third, fourth marriage). Those who are not married would not get married at all. They are no longer looking for lovers as they have mistresses instead. They start playing golf, taking boating as a hobby, and listen to concerts. They rarely eat out as their mistresses will cook hotpot for them. They have two to three phones with one of the numbers only a few people know.

They only use the Internet for work (not for entertainment) and occasionally watch television and read high-end magazines. After work, besides socialising in dinner parties and others, they go to their mistresses to relax. The women like going to salons and working out at the gym…and may start their menopause early.

They live in inner subdivisions and/or holiday villas.


VI. Wealthy Class (Billionaires)

They are at the top of the pyramid. Annual income is RMB 2,000,000 or more.

They are the entrepreneurs or those senior officials waiting for their retirement. They have three to five cars, three to five businesses, and three to five mistresses or lovers.

Majority of them are over 40 years old and married and would not divorce their wives because of a lover. They have extreme attitudes when it comes to work – they can be workaholics or do not like to work at all. But in terms of their emotional and spiritual health, they are unfortunately empty. Their family situation is also extreme – broken family, separated for many years or is together (looks good as the dead water on the surface). Half of their life is spent in Shanghai, and the other half spent abroad. Most of them have foreign green cards (or are permanent residents abroad). Their kids study in international schools.

Wealth to them is nothing at all. They begin to have concern for the poor and charitable f

oundations. No phone numbers on business cards as most probably the number you know is just one in a dozen. They participate in fewer business meetings. They frequent golf clubs, yacht clubs, race courses and other high-end places. Except for eating, going to the toilet, and sleeping, they have other people doing stuff for them. Some of them have one to two friends who really share a hobby or interest with them.

They live in inner subdivisions and villas. They might not even know how many houses they have all-in-all.


VII. The Reserved Wealthy

They never have to work a day in their lives or even feel the existence of money. They go everywhere, around the world. Their parents and/or them control Shanghai and/or China’s economy. They have a say in its financial direction.

They have every material item to their beckoning. But they would never drive a BMW or Mercedes Benz. They have servants to cook for them. They eat out only at five-star hotels. And they do their shopping abroad like Hong Kong or Thailand.

They do not look much differently from ordinary people. They do not have a must-go place or a must-do thing-to-do. But they also cannot go to a lot of places, cannot do a lot of stuff. They have a lot of money and a lot of time in their hands. Their actions affect the fifth and sixth groups.

They live in the Xintiandi area or the old-fashioned mansions in Binjiang District. Most of the properties are not in their name, but they are the actual owners.


This post was originally published in CNReviews in September 2010.


The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
(Comments on asia! are moderated before they appear on