On China’s East Coast people are getting rich. The province I currently live in, Jiangsu, has a GDP equivalent to Switzerland (picture the Alps with more than 30 million people, and 100 degree heat). While much of this wealth is concentrated in a few hands, there is a growing middle class in the cities, and they are providing jobs to their lower class neighbors that are better than they sound.
The first job I wanted to discuss was that of the maid, only that isn’t close to being an adequate translation. The Chinese call the maid an “Aiyi” which actually means auntie (in the close family friend sense of the word). In English this job doesn’t offer the opportunities that it does in China, nor is it as common.
At the hospital most of my co-workers have an Aiyi come by their home 5-6x per week for a few hours. They do some cleaning, but their major role is to take care of the shopping and cooking. In exchange they are paid about 2,000rmb/month, which is similar to what a factory worker makes. They also receive generous bonuses on the holidays.
It provides middle-aged women with a job that allows them to work close to home and continue their family duties, which factory work does not. While these salaries aren’t enough to move them from lower class status, it is the kind of foundation that allows their children to move up in society.
The other job that offers more social mobility than you might first expect, is being a driver. In China a driver is not simply a chauffeur, he is more like a personal assistant.
They keep track of meetings, and are responsible for most travel arrangements, they even hold their bosses wallet so that he doesn’t have to deal with cash. Their schedules include long weekend trips, but those are often punctuated with banquets, nice hotels, and plenty of time for napping during the boss’s meetings.
As a driver though, a person can gain incredible access to guanxi. These guanxi relationships build the connects that allow the drivers children to aim for a brighter future than their parents could achieve.
It is also considered a fairly respectable position, since a driver is often one of the most trusted people in a company. At one of my former schools the drivers had computers before the teachers, since they were essential in planning the president’s travel.