China’s older gen­er­a­tion high­lights dis­tinc­tive changes of the coun­try’s prices af­ter 1978

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Wei Xi and Huang Yi­ran

“When I first started work in 1972, my salary was 16 yuan [$2.33] per month. A year later, that rose to 18 yuan,” said Han Naiyi, 64, in Bei­jing. “Af­ter China’s re­form and open­ing-up [in late 1978], my monthly salary rose to over 100 yuan. We were so happy to have that much.”

“Now my re­tire­ment pay is over 3,400 yuan per month,” Han added.

Han is a re­tired worker of the for­mer State-run Bei­jing Jew­elry Fac­tory, who was born in Bei­jing and has lived in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal all her life.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics, Chi­nese peo­ple’s per capita dis­pos­able in­come in 2017 was 25,974 yuan, 22.8 times higher than that in 1978, de­duct­ing price fac­tor.

Han still re­calls how cheap all the foods were back in the early

1970s: “The rice was a lit­tle over 20 cents per kilo­gram, flour 37 cents per kilo­gram, and the best rib­bon fish was 50 cents per kilo­gram,” she said.

“But you could only eat sea­sonal food [back in those days]. In the win­ter, peo­ple only had radishes and cab­bages.” Han noted that she prefers life to­day.

“Now I have seen ev­ery­thing and can eat any­thing when­ever I want,” she added.

Yang Han­jing, who was born ex­actly the same year that the re­form and open­ing-up had started in South­west China’s Guizhou Prov­ince,


A sin­gle penny seemed like a lot, Yang re­called. “We could buy a pop­si­cle with just one cent,” he told Metropoli­tan.

“One Lu­nar New Year I got a red packet of five yuan, which was piled in 20-cent pa­per money. I was so ex­cited be­cause I fi­nally got a pile of money.”

Tele­phones, bi­cy­cles, ra­dios, TVs, and re­frig­er­a­tors were lux­ury prod­ucts for com­mon Chi­nese fam­i­lies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yang re­mem­bered how the whole vil­lage gath­ered in one place to watch a TV drama.

“There were only a few TVs in the en­tire vil­lage or even the en­tire town. So when­ever there was a TV drama ev­ery­one went out with their stools,” he said, adding that places with a TV of­ten be­came the cen­ters of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Liu Xi­uchi, a teacher at a vo­ca­tional school in North China’s He­bei Prov­ince, re­called the first TV that her par­ents bought was 200 yuan, for which they had bor­rowed 100 yuan.

Liu said 1980 al­ready felt like a much bet­ter time when she got the first elec­tric fan, which was 60 yuan.

They had to ask a fel­low vil­lager who lived in Tian­jin to bring it back. Coastal cities like Tian­jin and Guangzhou were the ma­jor sup­pli­ers for such elec­tric do­mes­tic ap­pli­ances at that time.

“When the fan ar­rived, all the peo­ple in the vil­lage came to our house, and they were so sur­prised to find that a per­son no longer needed to shake a cat­tail leaf fan. By only plug­ging in the power to the fans, air­flow was cre­ated and it was much cooler,” Liu said, gig­gling.

Be­sides a lack of money, the short­age of all sup­plies re­sulted in the need for food and in­dus­trial coupons, and the amount of food, clothes, coal and other daily sup­plies were all al­lo­cated.

Liu showed Metropoli­tan a food al­lo­ca­tion brochure which was still used in 1992.

“My hus­band was a cadre and got 14.5 kilo­grams a month. I got 16.5 kilo­grams be­cause I was a gar­ment pro­duc­ing worker and usu­ally did la­bor work. And our child got 4.5 kilo­grams a month.” Liu said, point­ing to the num­bers which are still clear on the aged yel­low pa­per.

“Al­most ev­ery­thing needed a voucher back then,” Han told Metropoli­tan, jok­ing that she and her fel­low work­ers had to draw for “lucky” bi­cy­cle vouch­ers. Nowa­days, be­cause there are too many cars, one has to try their luck in get­ting a li­cense plate.

The devel­op­ment of mo­bile phones shall be seen as rev­o­lu­tion­ary as well.

In 2001 Liu’s hus­band Huang got his first Nokia mo­bile phone for over 1,000 yuan. At that time, Huang earned 800 yuan a month.

In 2016, Han, who is in her 60s, learned how to de­posit money into her bank ac­count by us­ing her Huawei smart phone. The phone was bought by her son when the Chi­nese peo­ple’s per capita dis­pos­able in­come was 23,821 yuan, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics.

To­day Han also uses Ali­pay and WeChat.

“Now I can go out with­out a wal­let. Scan­ning the QR code with the phone solves ev­ery­thing,” she told Metropoli­tan.

Like younger gen­er­a­tions, Han also par­tic­i­pated in the Dou­ble 11 shop­ping fes­ti­val on Novem­ber 11. With a few clicks on her phone, Han bought two bot­tles of wash­ing gel and two bot­tles of sham­poo at one time, which is a smart deal for her.

Yang, who now runs sev­eral memo­rial mu­se­ums called Good One that col­lect old fur­ni­ture and do­mes­tic ap­pli­ances, finds him­self lucky to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence the tremen­dously fast devel­op­ment over the past 40 years.

“I have seen very orig­i­nal things, as well as high-tech prod­ucts and a devel­oped so­ci­ety,” he said.

Photo: VCG

Cit­i­zens re­flect on old coupons of China’s past in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Prov­ince. Due to the short­age of sup­plies from 1950 to 1980, food and in­dus­trial coupons were a daily ne­ces­sity for peo­ple to pur­chase ev­ery­day goods.

Pho­tos: Huang Yi­ran/GT, VCG and cour­tesy of Good One

1. A row of old style bi­cy­cles stored at Yang Han­jing’s Good One memo­rial mu­seum in Bei­jing2. Vin­tage TV sets and ra­dios pre­sented at Good One3. Scan­ning QR codes is a com­mon method of pay­ment in to­day’s China.4. A watch from the 1970s with its in­voice in­di­cat­ing rel­e­vant costs of that time5. A vin­tage elec­tric fan man­u­fac­tured in Tian­jin6. A vin­tage sewing ma­chine stored at Good One

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