China: A Classless Society

A frequently asked question is how is social class defined in China? 

The socio-political and economic changes in the last 30 years in China have led to great diversity of life opportunities and have allowed new individual freedom of expression, economic advancement and social mobility.

However, social and economic development is uneven across the country and this has resulted in the widening the gap between the rich and the poor.  At the same time, there is a growing emerging middle class in the major cities.

For research purposes, social class in China is often defined by:

  • Monthly Household Income
  • Educational Level/Qualification
  • Ownership of Property

By and large, monthly household income is used as the main indicator of class as it is often closely linked to educational qualifications and ownership of property.  These income levels vary across the cities and it is crucial to bear this in mind when sampling involves different cities.  The table below illustrates the differences in average household income across five cities:



Average Monthly Household Income (RMB)

Shanghai and Guangzhou









Hence, consumers with an average HHI of RMB6,000 will fall into Class C in Shanghai and Guangzhou and will be Class A in Wuhan where the average HHI is RMB2,500.

Although literacy rate in China is high as compared to many emerging markets, access to tertiary education is comparatively higher in the major cities with higher numbers of residents with tertiary education.