With virtually all their leisure time spent sitting under trees, chatting and playing cards, it is no surprise that over 44 per cent of China’s population spends less than 1,000 yuan (US$153) a year on entertainment activities, with some even left struggling to remember when they spent money for personal enjoyment.
China’s average annual leisure spending was 5,647 yuan (US$863) this year, according to a recent survey, reinforcing the large spending gap between China’s rich and poor.
“The last time I went to a wedding reception in a neighbouring village, I spent 80 yuan on a gift,” said Luo Xiu who is in her 50s and lives in Wan’an county in the southwestern Jiangxi province.
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“I had a good meal and fun there, so I think that would be my only expense on leisure in the last year.”
According to the survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Tencent Literature and Travel Industry Research Institute, 44.4 per cent of respondents – equivalent to 620 million people in China – spend less than 1,000 yuan a year on leisure activities.
Of the 12,000 people contacted by the joint nationwide survey, 22.7 per cent said they spent between 1,001 yuan and 3,000 yuan per year on leisure, 10 per cent from 3,001 yuan to 5,000 yuan, 11.1 per cent from 5,001 yuan to 10,000 yuan and 11.8 per more than 10,000 yuan.
Some 4.1 per cent of respondents said they spent nothing on leisure, while 3.4 per cent said they spent over 40,000 yuan.
On Saturday, China’s commerce ministry reiterated that the government will focus on domestic consumption next year as the trade war with the United States has fallen down the list of priorities.
The first meeting chaired by the new minister Wang Wentao stressed the importance of the domestic market, a key element of the new dual circulation strategy.
In May, Premier Li Keqiang said that China had 600 million people with a monthly income of 1,000 yuan (US$140), stoking ongoing debate about China’s wealth gap as over 40 per cent of its 1.4 billion people are still living on a daily income of less than US$5.
But due to its severe income inequality, rich Chinese families are leading the world in travel spending worldwide.
I think the living costs of my parents is about 3,000 yuan a year each. Leisure spending is just not part of our business
“It takes over two hours to drive from our village to the town centre and another two hours to the county centre. My parents have not been to the county centre to shop in years,” said Zhao Liu, Luo’s son who is in his 30s.
“There’s a newly built small square for ageing villagers nearby to do exercise. For villagers around my age, we either play cards or spend time online using social media for leisure as there is a lack of entertainment and leisure equipment.
“I think the living costs of my parents is about 3,000 yuan a year each. Leisure spending is just not part of our business.”
At the start of December, President Xi Jinping declared victory in China’s fight against poverty, claiming nearly 100 million people had been lifted out of extreme material deprivation after eight years of struggle.
Poverty in China is defined as an annual cash income of about 4,000 yuan (US$611), but critics have long argued the threshold is too low.
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