Marginalization and Social Welfare in China

By Linda Wong | Go to book overview
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The culture of welfare

The pre-revolutionary legacy

China is a country with a big historical baggage. In welfare matters, there has also been a venerable tradition of state and society involvement in caring for the needy. Despite its socialist revolution, this cultural legacy has cast a long shadow in shaping popular values and practices, presenting the communist state with a starting point to review and adapt the past to suit new realities and pursue its aspirations. This chapter aims to describe the pre-revolutionary culture of welfare, and, in the process, assess its salience for socialist China.


Each society has its own ways of organizing social welfare. The approach it adopts develops out of a unique set of historical and cultural circumstances. It can be said that the resulting pattern reflects its choice of values and institutional arrangements which are rooted in the very fabric of society. These cultural specific elements constitute what Pinker calls a 'culture of welfare', that 'includes the values which influence people's notions of obligation and entitlement, and the conventions through which these notions find practical expression' (Pinker 1986). Indeed the key role of contextual factors and societal choice has been stressed by many writers on social policy (Titmuss 1974, Robson 1976, Mishra 1981, Rose 1986). Social welfare is an integral part of society. As such it can only be studied in relation to its roots.

The importance of values for social welfare is well recognized. For example, Marshall sees the welfare state in twentieth century Britain as the embodiment of common beliefs in social rights (Marshall 1970). From the USA Robertson sees 'post-industrial values' stressing the salience of the quality of life, self-actualization and societal obligation to facilitate the fufilment of human potentials as the driving force of the vast expansion of social programmes after the Second World War (Robertson 1980). Values endorsing collective intervention in social life legitimize state social spending. Without this bedrock of support, welfare matters tend to be left to individuals, families and voluntary organizations. The case of the USA, a


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