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Inequality and the Chinese Elite: Between International Convergence and National Divergence

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Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Accepted/In press2021

King's Authors


This paper considers the position of the Chinese elite in both national and international contexts. I show that the Chinese elite has converged with the global elite in terms of their incomes, and that many senior Chinese executives are at least as well paid as their counterparts in rich countries. Their insertion into the global elite is further demonstrated by their increasing participation in the World Economic Forum. But this international convergence has been
mirrored by national divergence: economic inequality has risen within China, extending the distance between elites and the rest of the population. I show that for top income groups, the relative cost of employing a median wage worker for their personal service has plummeted, increasing their entitlements over labour and thus their capacity to dominate their compatriots. This has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in the reliance of the elite on domestic workers, a traditional symbol of social inequality. Thus the convergence of Chinese elites with their international counterparts has gone hand in hand with both rising economic inequality and rising social inequality within China.

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