Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

China rural-urban wage gap widens

By Shirong Chen
BBC News

Homeless woman in China's Anhui province
Life is getting tougher for China's poorer rural dwellers

Official figures show that the income gap between rural and urban areas widened last year, despite attempts by the Chinese leadership to close it.

The income disparity has also led to other inequalities.

The latest statistics from China's Agriculture Ministry suggest that on average, city dwellers earned 3.36 times more than those in the country.

Equality was one of the demands that helped the Chinese communist party to power nearly 60 years ago.

Now as the world's third largest economy, China's rural population are seeing their incomes fall further behind than ever before.

The average wealth gap has now reached 11,100 yuan or $1,620 (1,100), $200 more than it was in 2007.

In 2008, the average income for a worker in rural China was around $690 - while those in the cities earned $2,290 on average. Wages in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing are even higher.

The main cause for the widening gap is the low price of agricultural products such as rice, vegetable and fruits.

The loss of income for many migrant workers due to the global financial crisis has also contributed to the dire picture.

Social inequalities

The income disparity has brought about other social inequalities between the rural and urban populations.

For example, farmers are often offered as little as a quarter of the compensation their urban counterparts receive for traffic and industrial accidents.

One family in the remote Gangsu province have just accepted $29,000 in compensation for the death of their baby son who died after drinking milk tainted with melamine. City-dwelling families would be less likely to accept that amount.

There are often heated debates about whether rural areas are discriminated against. Some even say the life of a rural citizen is treated as cheaper than that of a city dweller.

So far government attempts to close the wealth gap have failed. It is under new pressure to change approach to avoid more rural unrest and riots which threaten China's fragile social stability.

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