Guangdong, China's largest provincial economy, saw its gross domestic product expand 10% to ¥5.3 trillion in 2011. In per capita terms, residents of the province pulled in an average of ¥50,500, or $7,819, thus meeting the World Bank's 2010 standards for classification as an upper middle income economy. But despite Guangdong's new-found affluence, in several respects the province still lags behind the country's two flagship cities: Shanghai and Beijing.
Although Shanghai and Beijing are much smaller than most provinces in China in terms of their total economic output, these two provincial-level municipalities still lead the way in terms of per capita achievements.
Shanghai's GDP grew 8.2% – one of the slowest paces across the nation – to ¥1.92 trillion last year, while its per capita GDP – the highest in mainland China – averaged ¥82,560, or $13,106, a level comparable to the World Bank's definition of "rich income." Beijing's per capita GDP was only moderately lower, at ¥80,394.
However, the residents of China's top two cities, are not as better off as they look like. Per capita disposable household incomes in Shanghai and Beijing were ¥36,230 and ¥32,900 respectively last year, or just 43.9% and 40.9% of per capita GDP, well below the 55% to 60% range observed in most developed countries. High inflation and cost of living expenses in both cities relative to the rest of the country also reduce the spending power of their residents.
The situation of Shanghai and Beijing residents becomes even grimmer when housing prices are counted in. An average apartment in Shanghai or Beijing costs ¥2 million; meaning that it would take a household composed of two income earners 28 years to pay for a home in either city. A more common duration in the developed economies is six to eight years.
China's GDP grew 9.2% in 2011 but its government revenue jumped 28.4%. That is to say, the government harvested goods three times faster than its people produced them, making the government richer and its people poorer.
$1 = ¥6.31