Intellectuals begin to catch up with workers

14th November 1997 at 00:00
CHINA. Education is paying off in the workers' state. After decades of persecution, poor pay and abysmal employment conditions for intellectuals, teachers and white-collar workers are being rewarded.

Remuneration and perks have improved steadily during this decade compared to workers whose "iron rice bowl" of cradle-to-grave employment security and welfare is no longer guaranteed.

Recent figures from China's State Statistical Bureau (SSB) show that since 1990 urban incomes are increasingly linked to educational background and professional skills, reversing the Maoist system of favouring workers over intellectuals.

Since the Communists came to power in the 1940s those with higher education have traditionally received less pay from the state. Among the state-employed professions, teachers' pay even five years ago ranked third from the bottom. In rural areas teachers earned less than an illiterate worker. As recently as 1992, official figures showed that a teacher in Beijing drew only 250 yuan a month, less than a worker's average salary of 350 yuan.

In 1990 a university-educated employee would on average be earning 20 per cent more than a worker - if they were lucky. By 1996, according to the SSB, this had risen to 70 per cent more than workers. Those in the new elite are not the "model workers" but those with the title of senior engineer or its equivalent whose average monthly income is now more than double that of the average worker, says the official New China News Agency.

Although teachers are still among the lowest paid of the educated, the gap between worker and teacher salaries has narrowed considerably and job-related perks may be overtaking those of workers. Improved housing and medical benefits are awarded on the basis of academic and professional qualifications as the government provides incentives for staff with higher education as part of drive towards a more meritocratic system.

Teachers say they feel more valued as the perception of the value of education has changed in the era of the one child family. Parents are determined to lavish the best education available on their offspring, pushing the respect for education and the educated to new heights.

A recent magazine survey of 400 middle and primary-school pupils in Hunan province found that 95 per cent of students were looking to the commercial, financial, cultural sectors for their futures. They included scientific research and health care as sought-after areas of work.

"Those asked said very candidly there is no future, no status and no money in livelihoods such as worker or peasants cultivating the land," said the official China Weekend magazine. "Several added anyone opting for those occupations must have mental problems."

Many parents who are workers or farmers say they will spend all the money they have to ensure their offspring get the best opportunities, the magazine said.

Yojana Sharma

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