May 12th, 2011
06:50 AM GMT
Hong Kong, China (CNN) – China’s consumer price index (CPI) number eased a tenth of a percent from March to April – down to 5.3% – but that’s nothing to boast about. It means living costs will stay high and China’s citizens will feel the continued burn in their wallets.
It also means frustrations will continue to simmer online – until quietly being deleted by China’s censors, as so often happens.
CNN's Beijing producer Helena Hong trolled China’s internet for what I like to call “grumble gems.” These are a few of what she found on China’s popular Sina Weibo, the country’s version of Twitter (which, like many other western social networking sites, is blocked in China):
@taderenmin: “I spent 2 RMB (US$0.30) for 4 apples last year, but now I need to spend 4 RMB (US$0.62) for 2 apples. The life quality is declining by 50%.”
@qunzhongdeshiqunzhongban: “The best way to cope with inflation is to spend what you’ve earned right away. It’s even better to just spend the money you’ll earn tomorrow.”
@Fengqingyundan: “I feel pressure everyday. I need to race against the interest rate, I need to race against CPI, I need to race against GDP. I feel tired but it seems that I’m getting used to it."
And the rest of China may need to get used to it too – especially if the country’s CPI keeps soaring like in the first four months of this year.
Monthly CPI for January and February was 4.9%, followed by March data reaching 5.4% – the highest in 32 months.
If this trend continues, Premier Wen Jiabao will lose face.
In March Wen set a 4% target for China’s 2011 annual CPI goal. At this rate, that’s not going to happen – and if not, get ready for more grumbling, and perhaps for more social unrest.
Food prices in particular are fuelling the restive fire in the bellies of the masses. Edibles make up nearly a third of China’s CPI calculations. In April, food prices surged 11.5% year on year. Non-food prices rose just 2.7%.
I was in Beijing last week and the price of food was noticeably higher than in October 2010, when I last visited. My friends were all complaining about the costs of meat, bread, noodles and fruits. Buying these things left a quieter jingle in the pocket.
Still, some in China are suspicious of the CPI numbers. Critics think Beijing is hiding the truth of still higher figures. As one Chinese microblogger (@lengyangaofei-qihuoyanjiu) wrote: “Does China CPI have any reference value? It’s just ‘Come from Person’s Imagination’ (CPI).”
But regardless whether the number is fact or fiction, China’s people are living it as a reality and with no end in sight for now. As another microblogger said, the Chinese people just need to “live on strong”:
@aelonkwok: “Although the oil price is up, the rent is up, the salt price is up, the taxi fee is up, the egg price is up…but we still need to live strongly – because the price of the graveyard is also up.”
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