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How 6 people in Beijing earn their yuans

China’s capital city is hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. We asked six Beijingers about their first and future paychecks.

With more than 3,000 years of history, Beijing has been China’s economic center through numerous dynasties. By the time the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, living and working in Beijing had become a sign of prosperity and prestige in and of itself. In 2021, it surpassed New York City as home to the most billionaires in the world, according to Forbes

Beijing, China

  • Population: 22 million
  • 100 Chinese yuan (CNY) = about $16 
  • Minimum monthly wage: CNY 2,200 (about $345)
  • Average monthly wage: CNY 6,909 (about $1,080)

Beijing’s economy attracts new residents not only from mainland China, but from all around the globe; about 49% of Beijing’s population is foreign-born. With an annual GDP of $563 billion in 2020, the economy of China’s capital city is comparable to the entire country of Belgium. It’s likely to get another boost when Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics in February. Though their jobs vary widely by industry and pay scale, every Beijinger has the same goal: to find their place here.

Wang Changbao, 41

Package delivery driver

My first monthly paycheck was CNY 1,500 when I worked in a factory near my small hometown in Henan Province. I was very happy because this was a huge chunk of money for me in 2004. Most people coming from outside Beijing didn’t have a debit card or even a bank account at that time. So I transferred most of my money back to my family and kept about 30% for my daily usage. I was lucky because I was living in a factory dorm, so I didn’t have to worry about rent. 

Ahead of the Summer Olympics in 2008, a lot of neighbors in my village realized that it might be a good time to find a job in Beijing. So I came to Beijing with several of my neighbors. The first few months in Beijing were tough because I did not realize how hard and how expensive it was to live there. I spent most of my savings on housing, and the job that I found didn’t pay as much as the one I had in the factory. After changing jobs several times, I finally became a package delivery driver at a local delivery company. 

Now I work 12 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., six days a week. I receive a basic salary plus commissions based on how many deliveries I make. My monthly pay is over 6,500 CNY, and it can be even more in November, which is the big month for online shopping in China. The workload, of course, is also demanding. But I enjoy my job, and I’m glad that I’m able to offer better living conditions for my family.

Chen Xuebin, 32 

E-commerce operation specialist

I was very lucky that I got a job offer before I graduated from college in 2012. A company where I was an intern wanted to hire me to be their accountant, so I didn’t have to worry about finding a job during graduation season. I remember the first paycheck that I received was CNY 5,500, which was deposited directly to my checking account. I was so happy. It meant a lot to me because I was finally able to pay for my own living expenses. I bought my parents some food gifts when I visited them back home. 

Because of my training as an accountant, I have a mindset of investing and saving, perhaps more so than my peers. Every month, I try to save at least 35% of my paycheck in my savings account. By the end of the first year, I had saved about CNY 22,000. After three years, I had saved about CNY 80,000, and I was finally able to buy my own car. 

E-commerce started to thrive in the past few years in China and changed the way people live, as well as their pay standards. A friend of mine working for a large e-commerce platform earned three times more than I earned, which really made me feel envious. After thinking about it, I decided to quit my job and found the position I currently have. The workload is demanding since we always work overtime, and it is relatively common for us to stay up late during the e-commerce shopping seasons in June and November. But it is all worth it when I receive my paycheck in the middle of each month. My monthly salary is now about CNY 20,000. I feel not just happy but hopeful because I am reaching my goal to buy my own apartment in Beijing.

Li Xuemei, 35

Restaurant waitress

I am from Handan in northern China’s Hebei province. I came to Beijing after spending a few years trying out opportunities in different cities. I have to say that life in Beijing can be really overwhelming since the expenses are much higher compared to other cities. I’m lucky to work in the restaurant that I’m currently in. I have a high school diploma, more than most people working in my position have, so my salary is also higher. Before the pandemic, I got CNY 6,000 plus a bonus. Since our restaurant does not provide a dormitory for us, I have to find a place to live by myself and pay rent.

The pandemic has caused devastating changes to the culinary industry. I only got 70% of my salary during the first three months because there was no dining in at restaurants. As the situation got better and social gatherings were allowed, more guests came in and my salary started to rise again. Now I can still get roughly the same amount of money as I did before the pandemic, but I just hope that the pandemic will end soon so our pay can rise.

Florence Boucard, 56

Senior human resources director

I started working about 35 years ago when I graduated from college. I majored in sociology, and I love getting along with people. Being in HR was my dream job — I can connect with all kinds of people. I can still remember the moment when I received my first paycheck. It was a beautiful afternoon in France, and I was thrilled when I opened up the letter and read the number on the check: about €800 ($900)! The very first thing I did was call my boyfriend, who later became my husband, and had a nice dinner with him. A few months later, I saved enough to move into an apartment with more space. 

Since then, I have traveled and worked in different countries across Europe, as well as Montreal for a few years. The reason I came to China was because I love traveling to different places, and I’ve always been interested in Chinese culture. I was very happy when the corporation I worked for decided to dispatch me to our headquarters in China about 10 years ago. My expenses in Beijing were way lower than in Paris — especially the food here is really cheap! My salary at that time was about CNY 45,000, and I could save some every month. Now I get about CNY 70,000 each month, and I feel comfortable living in Beijing. 

The past year has been a real challenge for everybody, and I haven’t gone home to France for more than a year due to the pandemic. But I’m grateful that my pay hasn’t been reduced. I also got to spend more time with my family since I worked remotely a lot because of the pandemic. Overall, my life in Beijing has been pleasant, and I hope there will be many more years to come.

Li Jiawei, 30

Data analyst

I got my first job in 2015 after I finished graduate school in Japan. One of my relatives introduced me to a photo agency, and I worked as a secretary there. The pay they offered me was decent — I got CNY 6,000 per month. However, I quit after working there for three months because I really didn’t like the work atmosphere or my boss. I was depressed for a while, but then I decided to find a job that is more related to my major and my expertise. Luckily, I found a job at a stock investing agency and worked as a data analyst there. 

I also was lucky because I am local here and don’t need to pay for housing every month. Instead of keeping my debit card to myself, I gave it to my mom so that I could have some savings by the end of the year. It turned out to be a wise decision: By the time I got married a year later, I used my savings to renovate an apartment with my fiancé. 

My son was born two years after that, and I felt the burden and stress of raising a child in a metropolitan city like Beijing, especially on the salary I earned then. So I decided to take on some new challenges. Now I work for a state-owned insurance corporation, and my salary is about CNY 25,000 — three times my pay at my previous job. The corporation paid an extra five months’ salary as an end-of-year bonus, and I am satisfied with it because I could save more. My goal is to buy a bigger apartment close to an elementary school when my son gets older.

Zhao Ligang, 53

Senior customer director

My first job was as a researcher working at a dairy farm outside Beijing. I studied agricultural science in college. There weren’t as many people going to college back in the 1980s, so my job was regarded as a decently paid position. My first paycheck was about CNY 1,500, paid in cash. 

After I got paid, I called my parents to tell them the good news because they’d been concerned about me all the time. I must admit that CNY 1,500 was a huge amount of money for me, and I had a sense of achieving financial freedom at that time, even though I knew it was impossible. 

After a few years working in the field, I gradually got tired of my job because doing research was not what I wanted to do. I tried to apply for a Ph.D. at a university in the United States, but unfortunately, I failed. However, it was also a time when multinational corporations were expanding their businesses in China, and they needed to hire people. One of my college classmates sent me a message, and he told me that one of the corporations was hiring sales directors. I decided to give it a shot, and I got it. That job meant a lot to me because it marked the inception of my career. I love the atmosphere in multinational corporations, I can feel the energy. My paycheck is also almost three times what it was. 

Now I work in a state-owned consulting corporation, and I earn about CNY 55,000 per month. I can’t be more grateful about my career because I’ve already achieved nearly everything I can over the past 30 years. I know I will retire someday, but let’s see what else I can still accomplish.

Yukai Peng

Yukai Peng is a visual journalist based in Beijing, China. He is currently a news editor for a state-owned media. Prior to that, Yukai was the photo intern for Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Born and raised in Beijing, Yukai has studied and worked in the United States for almost eight years, and he earned his master’s degree in the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. His dream is to be a sports photographer.