Aug. 30 (SHANGHAI) -- Liu Ming, a 28-year-old woman from Chengde in Hebei province, sells trinkets at a small stall she owns with her boyfriend. They earn an average of about 4,000 yuan ($626) a month, enough to lift them above the urban poor in Shanghai.
Until recently, life was full of hope and aspiration for this enterprising young couple trying to strike out in this cosmopolitan city.
Inflation, marked by escalating food prices, has caught up with many young people, hampering their goal of joining the ranks of the middle class. "I suddenly realized that the goal posts have moved further and further away from us," Liu said.
To save money for her business, Liu said she and her boyfriend have given up on the "luxuries" of life that they used to take for granted. The austerity program she imposed on herself has gone as far as forsaking pork and any kind of "fancy" vegetables. "We have been eating rice and cabbage for months," she said.
Understandably, many other young people have also cut back on their spending. This, in turn, is hitting Liu's business hard. "My income is falling because of the business slump and my expenses are soaring because of inflation, I feel depressed," she said.
China's consumer price index rose 6.5 percent in July year-on-year, the highest in three years, driven mainly by rocketing food prices, which have soared 14.8 percent compared with last year. Meanwhile, inflation shows little sign of abating, despite repeated government assurances.
"We trust the government," Liu said. But "the price of everything around us seems to keep going up", she added. Neither have the predictions of some economists that inflation in China has topped out provided much comfort to Liu and others. "I'll believe them when I feel I can afford to eat pork again," she said.
Shanghai's municipal government has obviously taken note. At a regular executive meeting of the city's top officials earlier this month, Mayor Han Zheng reportedly made a strong case for maintaining the stability of food prices, particularly pork.
Liu is not alone in feeling the pinch. A young mother who teaches at Fudan University said that she has stopped shopping for food at the neighborhood supermarket.
Instead, she travels for more than an hour by bus once every week to the farmers' market on the outskirts of town to shop for groceries.
The rising price of food is even more disturbing for the elderly who live solely on their pensions.
Shen Leiyang, a 78-year-old retired Shanghai Engineering Machinery Factory worker, lives in a 20-square-meter apartment with his wife. "She used to cook pork three to four times a week, but now, it is just once a week." Shen said.
For the Fudan lecturer and many thousands of others in the middle class, the increase in the price of food is just one of their concerns. "We are spending more on clothing, diapers and milk powder for my 2-year-old son," she said. "I don't want to scrimp on expenses for my only child."