Marginalization and Social Welfare in China

By Linda Wong | Go to book overview
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Social welfare in the first three decades

When the People's Republic was founded, the responsibility for social welfare rested with civil affairs departments in local areas which operated under the direction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Neiwu Bu. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) was the forerunner of the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), which was formally inaugurated in 1978. Since their very beginning, civil affairs departments in local areas have defined their mission as 'sharing the burden of the state and solving the problems of the masses' (Ministry of Civil Affairs 1986:4). Apart from welfare, civil affairs bureaux were also in charge of a number of political and administrative programmes. Nevertheless, social welfare has been the most important function for both the Internal Affairs and the Civil Affairs Ministries.

Tracing the genealogy for welfare administration reveals interesting facts about its close association with other facets of governance. The first Civil Affairs Ministry in China was set up in 1906, in the twilight years of the Qing Dynasty. This ministry had extensive powers. Its duties ranged from policing, law and order, registration of households, land administration, roads, hospitals, to sanitation, public health and welfare (Minzheng Gongzuo Gailun 1987:2, hereafter Gailun; Zhongguo Minzheng Shigao 1986:44-5, hereafter Shigao).

The birth of the Chinese Republic saw the Qing agency replaced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 1912, later renamed the Ministry of Home Affairs (in 1918), the Neizheng Bu, after the practice of Western governments. The home affairs organ had even broader jurisdiction. Its remit included: local government, elections, relief, rehabilitation and charities, household registration, land administration, police, conscription, registration of societies, health and the supervision of local officials (Shigao 1986:4- 5). In 1940, a Ministry of Social Affairs was created to take charge of war relief and social welfare (China Handbook 1937-45).

Before the communists consolidated their power nationally, they had set up civil affairs agencies in the occupied areas. These came under the aegis of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the practice continued after 1949. Internal Affairs was one of the first ministries established under the Government Administration Council. later renamed the State Council. Below the

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