Academic journal article Development and Society

Marketization and Market Capacity: The Formation of Middle Class in China?-An Empirical Study in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou

Academic journal article Development and Society

Marketization and Market Capacity: The Formation of Middle Class in China?-An Empirical Study in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou

Article excerpt

Introduction

China has been undergoing a dual transition from the planned to the market economy, and from the traditional agrarian to the modern industrial society ever since its reform and opening up. Thanks to the social and institutional transformation, the long-rigid social structure has begun to be relaxed, and remarkable changes have been observed in people's occupation, identity and social status. The middle class (or intermediate class, intermediate stratum) has emerged as a new social stratum. This class has been expanding in recent years, and it is still relatively weak as a whole, which is another characteristic of the social structure in China.

It is widely believed that a mature and large middle class will play a positive role for social stability, economic development and political democratization (Goldthorpe 1982; Kerr et al. 1973). Therefore, an unduly undersized middle class will do no good to the harmonious and stable development of China. How to develop the middle class has become an important issue for the middle class research in China.

Most of the existing research discusses the formation and development of the Chinese middle class at a macro level. Specifically, economic, political and cultural factors jointly contribute to the creation and growth of the middle class in China. The open and just political environment and the readjusted state-society relations have facilitated the emergence of the public sphere within a certain scope. The sustainable economic growth, economic restructuring, and the expanded tertiary industry have significantly facilitated the process of marketization and urbanization. Cultural diversity, the transition from elite to mass education, and the advanced science and technology have laid a cultural and spiritual foundation for the rise of the middle class (Zhou Xiaohong 2003; Li Chunling 2011). The macro-level analysis can well describe the background of the emergence of the Chinese middle class, but the middle-level mechanism analysis is also very important. Li Qiang (2015) proposes three approaches to the formation of the Chinese middle class, namely education, expertise, and market, and provides a preliminary analysis of how it forms. This analysis, however, is a description of the occupational structure of the middle class in China, and is not statistically tested. In contrast, we use the survey data of the middle class in three megacities of China, i.e. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, to test with statistical models the approaches to the formation of the middle class, and then analyze the formation mechanism of the middle class in China's megacities.

It should be noted that the middle class is not evenly distributed in China. It concentrates in economically developed regions, especially megacities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The middle class in such regions has a longer history and a larger size. Take Shanghai for example. Qiu Liping (2014), after studying the structural transition of the Shanghai society in the 30-plus years since reform and opening up, holds that the non-standard pyramid structure in Shanghai has turned into a standard pyramid, in which the middle class dominates in downtown areas. Therefore, it is of great significance for us to investigate the formation mechanism of the middle class in megacities in order to develop this class across China.

Do the three approaches exist in the formation of the middle class in China's megacities? How do they play a role in this process? Is it possible to establish a holistic theoretical framework to analyze the impacts of the three approaches? These are research questions to be examined in this paper.

Literature Review and Research Hypotheses

Definition of the Middle Class

Since its inception, the concept of the middle class has undergone a long process of evolution and its implications have varied with social relations. Therefore, it is necessary to define the middle class based on the nature and composition of a specific society. …

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