Why is the salary of the President of the People's Republic of China so low? According to Wikipedia, the salary of the President of the People's Republic of China just ¥152,121 RMB ($22,000 USD). How can one of the most powerful man have such a low salary?

According to the plan, all civil servants will get a raise. The basic monthly salary for national-level officials, who are the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, including President Xi Jinping, will increase from the current 7,020 yuan ($1,130) to 11,385 yuan, a raise of about 60 percent.


I am thinking the salary is so low that it would encourage officials to have a second job or take bribes in order to make ends meet. Is there a reason why the salary is being kept so low?

  • 4
    It would be interesting to also know the allowances for various things to see to the whole picture.
    – Alexei
    Aug 31 '21 at 4:55
  • 3
    I have seen estimates that put the median income in China at around USD 3,000 per year (the GDP per capita is 10,000 or so). In that case, the President makes about seven times the median national salary, which is not too far from what is the case in the United States.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 31 '21 at 7:59

The President of the PRC is a symbolic position of little real power. Many previous leaders haven't bothered with putting themselves into the role: Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping never took the title "President".

The Power, prestige (and probably salary) come with being the General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. More recently (starting with Jiang Zemin) the General Secretary has also been invested with the position of President. But this remains a de facto ceremonial post. Mr Xi's income is not dependent only on being "President".

  • 2
    It is an interesting hypothesis, but as far as I can tell, the General Secretary never made more than Xi's current salary.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 31 '21 at 9:05

You are assuming that costs and incentive structures are the same.

The US is an outlier in how much money is required for someone to achieve material security, because the state provides fewer services, necessities are provided only by for-profit companies and insurances that cover eventualities are expensive.

In regulated markets, necessities tend to be a lot cheaper and luxury goods a lot more expensive. For example, in the GDR, typical prices were 1M for bread, 50-100M for a month's rent, and 8000M for a TV, with typical income being around 400-500M. Converting these to USD is difficult as DDM were purely internal, if we follow the official 1:1 conversion from DEM, 1 DDM would be 0.30-0.70 USD (rates were fluctuating wildly back then).

So, "making ends meet" is not a problem these people have, and the only reason to pay them more would be if you wanted to reward them with more luxury goods.

  • 2
    This is an international website, so please define any abbreviations that may be unfamiliar to a wider audience. I assume by the context that 'M' and 'DDM' = East German mark? What is 'DEM'? Aug 31 '21 at 13:02
  • 1
    DEM = West German Mark -- these are historical ISO4217 currency codes. Aug 31 '21 at 13:29
  • Then the OP's question could be translated into "What are the incentives for the chinese elites, if not salary".
    – oliver
    Aug 31 '21 at 13:45
  • @oliver, yes, this is a frame challenge. Aug 31 '21 at 15:00
  • 1
    @SimonRichter: in my opinion a perfectly valid answer. Some people don't need a lot of payment if they can torture others in their jobs, for example. This is also reminiscent of the GDR because people working for the Stasi either got there because of coercion, or due to their own eagerness, but rarely for payment, I guess.
    – oliver
    Aug 31 '21 at 15:14

As the saying goes, "the poor man pays twice". The people does not just pay taxes. In a political sense, they also pay with their freedom, pay with their happiness, pay with their attention to pointless fuss, pay with their self esteem, pay with their health, and sometimes even pay with their lives. This answers the "why" from the payer's side.

On the receiver's side, the published/alleged amount of payment (whether it is true or not) is also a symbol for an attitude towards life and social relationships. According to confucianism, a leader mainly rules by what we would, today, call virtue signalling:

The Master said, "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it."

Analects 2.1

The chinese people ought to think, that Xi Jinping and his playmates are admirable for doing such a dutiful and responsible job for such a pitifully low salary. This clearly proves (according to that invincible logic), that Xi Jinping is a superior human being, that defers his own personal profit behind the wellbeing of his beloved people, and that he, his decisions and his lifelong leadership can be trusted beyond any imaginable doubt.

Seen from the perspective of money being just a means of effectively communicating power, Xi Jinping's nominally low income also illustrates the fact, that he can get things done without paying much. If he commanded a peasant to supply to him two trucks of starfruit to feed to his private pack of Powderpuff dogs, the peasant, who feels honored by this noble request, does not expect payment, because if he did, he would violate explicitly written codes of obedience, e.g. (from https://www.britannica.com/topic/xiao-Confucianism):

Xiao consists in putting the needs of parents and family elders over self, spouse, and children, deferring to parents’ judgment, and observing toward them the prescribed behavioral proprieties

Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China serve as a substitute father and acting against them is strictly forbidden.

One might also speculate, based on anecdotal evidence, that a misguided peasant could well find himself in a reeducation camp, without the public ever hearing of him again, or his wife getting sterilized like we know from the Uyghurs, or getting killed for enforced organ transplants like we know from the Falun Gong practicitioners, if he dare to question the authority of the officials. Of course, the peasant is only a parable that shall illustrate the relationship between the chinese people and their turbo-patriarchical state.

Hence, it is quite natural to assume that the incentives of chinese apparatchiks are not so much to seek in the money they earn, but rather in the question, how authoritarian they can act without getting punished by yet another superior who deems himself more virtuous than the former. Consequently, publicly shaming other people for not being virtuous enough is a very widespread problem in contemporary chinese society (see e.g. the Human Flesh Search Engine).

  • 2
    "If he commands a peasant to supply to him two trucks of starfruit to feed to his private pack of Powderpuff dogs, the peasant, who feels honored by this noble request, does not expect payment, because if he did, he would quickly find himself in a reeducation camp, without the public ever hearing of him again." China is authoritarian, but methinks you seriously overestimate how much.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 31 '21 at 8:01
  • 1
    @Obie2.0 The reference to starfruit and the dogs should have made it clear that this is just a rhethoric figure. But consider the case of Jack Ma and others, who disappeared after dissenting with mainstream contemporary Maoism, and some of them never appearing again. And even for Jack Ma, I ask myself if he has undergone "voluntary" brain surgery of his frontal lobe.
    – oliver
    Aug 31 '21 at 8:05
  • 5
    Maybe you should try adding some factual sources.
    – prata
    Aug 31 '21 at 8:34
  • @prata: It's done!
    – oliver
    Aug 31 '21 at 15:16
  • 1
    @oliver By factual sources, I meant things that directly support why the president of China is being paid so low. Not things that support your speculation.
    – prata
    Sep 1 '21 at 16:44

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