Sun, May 26, 2013 - Page 14 News List

As China’s middle class grows, so do its concerns

Beijing is facing increasing public pressure to deal with issues such as pollution, food safety and education driven by the 10 percent of its population who now count as middle class

by Tom Hancook  /  AFP, BEIJING

At lunchtime, the family gathers in a chain restaurant over plates of braised pork, spicy tofu and buns filled with red bean paste. However, eating out is becoming a rarer treat.

Years of scandals involving poisoned food — from tainted milk, to reprocessed “gutter oil” taken from drains and sold as new, to rat meat passed off as lamb — make the family nervous about Beijing’s restaurants.

“I try to make sure my daughter eats outside as little as possible,” Li said.

At dinner time, Nancy runs to the door to greet her father, while a domestic helper cooks dozens of seafood-filled dumplings. Li pulls a bottle of imported Australian wine from a cabinet, before deciding on a New Zealand red.

Worries about safety mean they source their food carefully, ideally from farms near Li’s home town, she said, adding: “There is corruption in the industry, which makes the problem worse.”

The family has benefited hugely from decades of rapid economic growth, but Li hopes for more from China’s new leadership, formally installed in March.

“Ordinary people are losing faith in the government because of problems accumulating over a long period,” she said. “I don’t think their main duty is to improve the economy ... it’s to improve the quality of life, so that we don’t have to eat oil from the gutter, or worry about milk.”

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