Social Policy Reform in Hong Kong and Shanghai: A Tale of Two Cities

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Social Policy Reform in Hong Kong and Shanghai: A Tale of Two Cities, edited by Linda Wong, Lynn T. White and Shixun Gui. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2004. xix + 292 pp. US$69.95 (hardcover).

Social policy reform is not new to China. In the first half of the 20th century, both the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party adopted legislation designed to provide a measure of protection to workers, even though they were unable to implement most of these policies. Before the establishment of the People's Republic, the Communist Party tested welfare and retirement programs for industrial workers in a limited number of fields, and medical care programs for job-related injuries.

Though much of the profit made in Shanghai enterprises was diverted to other regions of China, the city's industrial workers were recipients of various benefits under Mao. Post-Mao, much of Shanghai's profits were retained locally, with the result that in the past twenty years there has been a marked upgrading of housing, schools and medical services.

In Hong Kong, post-World War II developments were the reverse of those in Shanghai. The "laissez-faire" attitude in this British colony initially eschewed state intervention in housing, education, medical care and other social reform activities (except perhaps policing). Only slowly and cautiously did the colonial government allocate finances for some social services, for example providing low-cost housing when catastrophic fires left no other choice. Beset by a refugee population and needing workers for manufacturing companies, the Hong Kong government slowly implemented modest educational programs and some medical services, but this conservative policy slowly changed, especially as the date for a return to Chinese control drew near. As the 21st century now unfolds, it is interesting to consider how these two important urban centers compare. This book, edited by Linda Wong (City University of Hong Kong), Lynn White (Princeton University) and Gui Shixun (East China Normal University), provides a first "cut" at this comparison. What have the two cities done and how successful have they been?

The book has nine chapters. Excluding the introduction (Wong and Gui) and the concluding commentary (White), the seven core chapters are analytical descriptions and comparisons of Hong Kong and Shanghai policies with respect to health finance, housing, education, labor, poverty and social security, elder care, and migration and competitiveness. Each topical chapter (all of these have three authors) presents data in the form of charts, and summarizes and analyses relevant legislation. All have bibliographies, mostly (though not exclusively) of Chinese sources.

Despite effort, a comparison has been difficult to achieve, for two reasons. Although each chapter has three authors, most of them have expertise about only one city, with general knowledge of the other. This results in uneven coverage and a disparity of space allocated between the two cities. …