Tom Doctoroff tried to address the almost impossible question in USAtrends for a US audience on what the Chinese middle class want. Impossible to compare, since the American way of looking at the middle class, does not exist in those terms in the perception of the Chinese. Even when you look at the Chinese middle class in financial terms, they are maybe well-off in China, but poor compared to US standard and unable to stimulate their economy in a similar way.
Despite those complications, Tom Doctoroff does a good job in describing them in the Chinese setting:
The middle classes believe in social mobility, their environment can now offer them the chance to change and improve their lives. This is what being middle class is really all about, to transform lives and improve physical wellbeing, it’s a move beyond the already satisfied lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs of survival and physical safety requirements towards a need to satisfy social status requirements. The middle class engages with society to get recognition for their (financial) successes. It’s important to note though that this is not about arrival, it’s about being on the right journey, they see theirs as an arduous, perilous, continuous struggle upwards and there is an acute awareness of the precarious and unpredictable slipperiness of this journey, that all could be lost and taken away in the bat of an eyelid. There is a need to project how high you have climbed, but also to protect that ascent. Insecurity abounds. Insecurity based on cultural, economic and political factors. The Chinese have an understanding with their ruling classes that government must be responsive to people’s needs, the middle classes trust that their government will protect their interests, otherwise the contract they have with them will unravel. People are not protected by civic institutions, there is no political representation, and wealth is not protected institutionally. The middleclasses are wracked with anxiety, it’s a very tough world out there and unless they carry on generating, it is all too easy to slip back to the bottom. What goes up can and often will come down.