Social Policy in China: Development and Well-Being

Article excerpt

Social Policy in China: Development and Well-being, by Chak Kwan Chan, King Lun Ngok and David Phillips. Bristol: The Policy Press, 2008. xiv + 234 pp. £60.00 (hardcover), £22.99 (paperback).

China's economic achievements of the past three decades have been remarkable. To accelerate productivity, the Chinese leaders changed the economic base of China's socialist system from state-owned enterprises (SOE) and people's communes to modern business corporations and family-based farming. By introducing the Household Responsibility System in the countryside, restructuring SOEs and allowing private business activities, however, they also destroyed almost completely the institutional and financial bases of China's previous welfare system, which was provided through work units and communes and centered on principles of equality and all-round supply. To establish a new welfare system compatible with a market economy, the Chinese government had to implement numerous reforms.

This book explores these reforms in detail in the five key policy areas of social security (old age pension, Minimum Standard of Living Scheme and support for the poor), labor (active employment policy and unemployment insurance), health, education and housing. This wide-ranging concept of social security goes beyond financial assistance, but it does not discuss occupational injuries, although mining accidents especially have attracted much attention elsewhere.

The authors do not limit human beings to their existence as economic actors. Each of the key areas is examined using a human well-being framework comprising eight dimensions: physical as well as psychological well-being, social integration, fulfillment of caring duties of parents towards children, human learning and development, self-determination and participation, equal value, and just polity. This framework, adapted from Chan and Bowpitt, uses human dignity to evaluate the performance of state welfare. It enables the authors to provide not only factual information on policies but also an in-depth understanding of the impact of welfare changes on the quality of life of the Chinese people.

The framework is explained in Part 1 of the book, which also contains short overviews of social policy in the context of economic reforms and the making of social policy in China. Part 2 consists of five chapters exploring the key policy areas. Each chapter starts with a brief review of the relevant welfare policy before the economic reforms, followed by an overview of policy changes in the reform era and an examination of the impact of reforms on human well-being. The third and final part of the book systematically summarizes achievements and weaknesses in each policy area, presenting the results in the form of texts and well-arranged tables.

The examination clearly reveals the abysmal gap between China's economic and social development. By basing its reform policies on decentralization and marketization, the Chinese government created a highly divisive and discriminatory welfare system, leaving many disadvantaged groups unprotected. …