Mapping Public Concerns About Class Immobility in China


Public concerns about class immobility represent awareness of social closure and economic inequality on the part of members of the public. We provide the first representative portrait and empirical analysis of the growing immobility concerns among the Chinese. Using online query volume data from Baidu, the most widely used search engine in China, we extract the overall index of searching immobility-related words to measure the provincial level of concerns about immobility. We found that concerns about immobility rose dramatically from around 2008 and slightly decreased from 2012 and that all provinces show similar tendencies. We fit dynamic panel models using the Generalized Method of Moments estimator and found that the level of public concerns about class immobility in a province is profoundly affected by a series of the province’s political and socioeconomic conditions.

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Change history

  • 09 November 2019

    In the original publication of this article, the acknowledgement section has been missed to publish. Now the same has been provided in this correction.


  1. 1.

    Isabel Sawhill. “Inequality and social mobility: Be afraid,” Social Mobility Memos, May 27, 2015.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

    We performed a series of robustness checks. First, if a certain immobility-related word or several words had been far more searched for on Baidu, then ICC measured by the sum frequency of word searches may simply reflect the search for the very specific or for certain groups of words. So, for each province in each year, we carry out a Principal Components Analysis (PCA) to generate the overall index of search frequency rather than simply computing a sum of 75 time series of search. Second, we also sum up the Z-Score of 75-word frequencies to generate an alternative index. Although not reported here to save space, the results obtained from models using the two new indexes are in general consistent with what we have revealed in Table 2. The results are available upon request.


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The List of Immobility-Related Words

  1. 1.

    贫富分化 polarization between the rich and the poor

  2. 2.

    官二代 the official-lings

  3. 3.

    工人阶级 the working class

  4. 4.

    中产阶级 the middle class

  5. 5.

    资产阶级 the bourgeoisie

  6. 6.

    穷二代 poor second generation

  7. 7.

    贵族 the nobility

  8. 8.

    上流社会 the upper class

  9. 9.

    金领 gold-collar worker

  10. 10.

    蓝领 blue-collar worker

  11. 11.

    白领 white-collar worker

  12. 12.

    基尼系数 Gini coefficient

  13. 13.

    富二代 rich second generation

  14. 14.

    无产阶级 the proletariat

  15. 15.

    阶级斗争 class struggle

  16. 16.

    社会地位 social status

  17. 17.

    收入差距 income gap

  18. 18.

    职业地位 occupational status

  19. 19.

    两极分化 polarization

  20. 20.

    同一起跑线 the same starting line

  21. 21.

    农民工 rural migrant workers

  22. 22.

    下等人 rabble

  23. 23.

    白富美 fair-skinned and good-looking females from wealthy families

  24. 24.

    高富帅 tall, rich and handsome man

  25. 25.

    矮穷矬 short, poor and ugly

  26. 26.

    世袭罔替 the inheritance of privileged title

  27. 27.

    世袭制 hereditary system

  28. 28.

    拼爹 competition of family background

  29. 29.

    不患寡而患不均 concerns himself not with scarcity but rather with uneven distribution

  30. 30.

    知识改变命运 knowledge changes one’s destiny

  31. 31.

    中产阶层 middle class

  32. 32.

    中等收入 middle income

  33. 33.

    星二代 the second generation of stars

  34. 34.

    屌丝 loser

  35. 35.

    豪门 wealthy and influential family

  36. 36.

    门当户对 two parties in marriage should be equal in social status

  37. 37.

    改变命运 change one’s destiny

  38. 38.

    凤凰男 a man born and growing up in the countryside but successfully gets a job in cities

  39. 39.

    孔雀女 a girl from a big city and a rich family

  40. 40.

    名门望族 great noble family/clan

  41. 41.

    出身论 theory of family origins

  42. 42.

    蓝血 blue blood (refers to a person of noble breeding)

  43. 43.

    种姓 caste

  44. 44.

    鲤鱼跳龙门 cyprinoid jump over dragon door (which means make good winning and climb up to a higher rung at the social ladder)

  45. 45.

    家族 clan

  46. 46.

    世家 a family holding high official positions for generations

  47. 47.

    高干子弟 children of high ranking officials

  48. 48.

    大院子弟 those who were growing up in the community of people working for the Party, the Government and the Army

  49. 49.

    家庭出身 family origin

  50. 50.

    蚁族 ant tribe (a metaphor for the groups of low-income university graduates who settle in the compact and underdeveloped suburbs of major cities)

  51. 51.

    弱势群体disadvantaged groups

  52. 52.

    利益集团 interest group

  53. 53.

    逆袭 loser becoming a winner

  54. 54.

    富不过三代 clogs to clogs in three generations

  55. 55.

    仇富 hatred of the rich

  56. 56.

    草根 grassroots

  57. 57.

    萝卜招聘 tailor-made recruitment (which refers to that only the child of a certain official meets the requirement set by the employer, especially during the process of recruiting civil servants)

  58. 58.

    高考报名 taking the national college entrance examination

  59. 59.

    权贵资本主义 crony capitalism

  60. 60.

    红二代 offspring of the Party cadres

  61. 61.

    分配不公 unfair distribution of wealth

  62. 62.

    城乡差距 rural–urban gap/disparity

  63. 63.

    恩格尔系数 Engel coefficient

  64. 64.

    不平等 inequality

  65. 65.

    美国梦 the American dream

  66. 66.


  67. 67.

    白手起家 build up from nothing

  68. 68.

    虎父无犬子 like father like son

  69. 69.

    贫寒子弟children of poor origins

  70. 70.

    上升空间 climbing space

  71. 71.

    寒门再难出贵子 It’s too difficult for those who rose from underprivileged families to become elite

  72. 72.

    农二代 those who were born in the rural area

  73. 73.

    一代穷世代穷 the persistence of poverty across generations

  74. 74.

    高考弃考 giving up the national college entrance examination

  75. 75.

    科举 imperial examination

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Li, S., Chen, Y. & He, G. Mapping Public Concerns About Class Immobility in China. Soc Indic Res 144, 745–765 (2019).

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  • Class immobility
  • Class mobility
  • Social class
  • Big data
  • China