While wealth and power are respected around the world, the Chinese Sage Confucius foresaw 3,000 years ago that in China "the lack of wealth is not the root of crisis; the unfair distribution of wealth is."

  As the Chinese’s inclination for fairness is challenged by a rapidly widening gap between the rich and poor as the nation’s economy speeds ahead, the country’s top legislators and political advisers are prompting the government to slow down the country’s drive towards a "winner-take-all" society.

  Villas, built on farmland in Zhengzhou, Central China’s Henan Procince, are shown in the picture taken on November 15, 2004. [newsphoto]

  That is part of building a "harmonious society" in which all can benefit from China's economic reforms.

  "The current social inequality, including the inequality in wealth distribution, results mainly from inequality in opportunities. To soothe people's uneasiness with the wealth gap, it's of utmost importance to ensure that citizens are given equal opportunity to reap the fruits of the country's economic and social development," said CPPCC member Wu Jinglian at a panel discussion held by the country's top advisory body.

  NPC deputy Huang Yanrong added that "a discontent regarding the inequality in opportunities lies behind that of the rich-poor chasm. The government should first of all resolve such problems as corruption, monopolies, cheating and privileges of the few, and protect the rights of those at the grass roots, including migrant workers and farmers."

  She warned that an excessive wealth convergence might become a lethal threat to building societal harmony, which Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to do before more than 2,000 NPC deputies on Saturday.

  Huang's words are echoed by a survey by Horizon Research, an independent pollster, released by Xinhua News Agency yesterday.

  Many urban residents surveyed said the presence of a growing number of poor migrant labourers makes them feel somewhat unsafe. They worry that migrants, who have lost their land and are sometimes unpaid by employers in cities, could resort to extraordinary or disturbing outlets to unleash their anger.

  To reverse the trend of "the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer," the government should subsidize education for those with lesser incomes, according to a proposal of CPPCC National Committee member Hao Ruyu.

  "Practical measures need to be taken to ensure that a proper sum of money really goes to education instead of food or housing," Hao said.

  Taxes should be levied on the consumption of luxury goods, including villas, expensive cars and banquets, said CPPCC member Huang Jingjun.

  Huang also proposed that current tax law be amended so that only those with a monthly income of more than 1,500 yuan (US$180) must pay the individual income tax. Currently anyone with a monthly income of more than 800 yuan (US$97) is subject to taxation.

  "Statistics show salary earners contribute 65 per cent of the country's total individual income tax revenues. They already bear the main pain brought by reforms, and they should not be burdened with so much of the expense of reforms," he said.