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As China's Economic Might Grows, So Do Fears About Country's Poor

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BEIJING – Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba stormed international markets last week to become the largest initial public offering in U.S. history. But the staggering amounts of money involved have shone a light on the widening gap between the super rich and the extremely poor in the world’s second largest economy.

At $25 billion, the company’s IPO made Alibaba’s owner, Jack Ma, China's richest man and captured the essence of the country’s growing global financial and economic might.

“The economy is booming, there are more and more skyscrapers,” Beijing-based freelance artist Gao Jinlong, 60, told NBC News. “But the gap between rich and poor is greater and greater.”

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Indeed, a recent report on wealth inequality showed that the top one percent of households in China hold about a third of total assets, while the bottom quarter holds a mere 1 percent. And the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened considerably in recent decades, the report added.

So as President Xi Jinping tries to rally the world’s most populous country behind the dream of a strong and prosperous nation, ordinary Chinese often say they’re nervous about the future even if they feel proud of what the country has achieved.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd founder Jack Ma, second left, poses as he arrives at the New York Stock Exchange for his company's initial public offering (IPO) under the ticker "BABA" in New York on Sept. 19.BRENDAN MCDERMID / Reuters

The byproducts of wealth and success – among them pollution, traffic and corruption – frustrate restaurant-owner Jiao Shouning.

Present-day China is by and large a “depressing country,” he said.

“The ruling class may live comfortably but citizens do not,” he said.

It has gotten so even the rich are nervous.

While China looks set to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2024, according to the latest forecast of IHS, a Colorado-based global industrial data and analysis company, nearly half of China’s millionaires plan to emigrate from their communist homeland the next five years.

For the first time ever, the United States’ investor visa program, which grants immigrant status to qualified applications has run out of visas allotted for this year, overwhelmed by rich Chinese who comprise 85 percent of applicants.

- NBC News' Zhou Chaojie and Zhang Xiwen contributed to this report.

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