Danwei: The Changing Chinese Workplace in Historical and Comparative Perspective

Danwei: The Changing Chinese Workplace in Historical and Comparative Perspective

Danwei: The Changing Chinese Workplace in Historical and Comparative Perspective

Danwei: The Changing Chinese Workplace in Historical and Comparative Perspective

Synopsis

The danwei, or work unit, occupies a central place in Chinese society; at one time it was so entrenched in people's daily life that while one could be without a job, one could not be without a danwei. With outstanding contributors from various disciplines, this volume, a systematic study of the danwei system, addresses three sets of questions from historical and comparative perspectives:

-- What are the origins of the danwei and how did the danwei system become institutionalized?

-- Is it unique to China?

-- What role does the danwei play and has it changed since the launching of the post-Mao reforms?

In addressing these questions. the contributors make a contribution to both Chinese studies and comparative studies of industrial organization and the transition from state socialism.

Excerpt

China today is in the throes of momentous socioeconomic change. The post-Mao reforms have wreaked havoc on such socialist institutions as the household registration system that once enforced a strict separation between city and countryside. That division bespoke a gap between the standard of living in urban and rural China that favored city-dwellers by a ratio of at least three-to-one toward the end of the Maoist period.

The superior living standard found in Chinese cities was largely due to the danwei system, a hierarchy of state-owned workplace units (schools, factories, hospitals, government agencies, and the like) whose employees were guaranteed a variety of perquisites denied to peasants in the countryside: secure jobs, affordable housing, inexpensive medical care, a range of subsidies for everything from transportation to nutrition, and generous retirement pensions. Along with these economic benefits went political controls; the party branch at the work unit closely monitored its employees' public and personal activities, wielding an assortment of rewards and sanctions to encourage politically acceptable behavior. Such incentives, in turn, contributed to a relatively high level of urban social order. Moreover, when popular protests did erupt, they were usually delimited by the confines of the danwei.

The work unit was once so essential to daily life in urban China that people would say one could be without a job, but not without a danwei. Unless one gained the approval of one's danwei, a person could not freely transfer to a different unit. Until recently, one could not buy an airline ticket or check into a . . .

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