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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 05:27 GMT
China's wealth gap widens to gulf
By Louisa Lim
BBC, Beijing

File photo of woman in Beijing
China has about 900 million peasants
China says the wealth gap between its urban and rural citizens is now one of the largest in the world.

A new survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that in 2002 urban residents earned three times more than their rural counterparts.

It is an issue that has been in the spotlight lately.

But the man in charge of the study, Li Shi, says even the new figures do not paint a true picture of the disparity which he claims is even wider.

Farmers pay their own health care and education costs, meaning their real incomes are a sixth of China's urban residents.

An academic quoted by the official Xinhua news agency also blamed biased government policies against farmers and heavy taxation.

Uncomfortable reading

China's leaders are conscious of the potential for discontent in the countryside.

They have recently announced they will spend $18bn raising farmers' incomes.

It has become a hot topic here due to a surprise bestseller which will make uncomfortable reading for the leadership.

The book, called An Investigation Into Chinese Peasants, has sold 100,000 copies. It highlights the heavy tax burden and local corruption that plagues the lives of many farmers.

But its implicit conclusions are the most damaging - that a half century of communism has failed to improve the lives of China's 900 million peasants.

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