A Response to "Social Change, Life Strain, and Delinquency among Chinese Urban Adolescents": Thoughts on the Broader Implication of China's Economic Success on the Production of Delinquency
Mazerolle, Paul, Sociological Focus
The institutional changes that have resulted from China's rapid transformation from a closed communist society to a more open, market-driven society are both impressive and daunting. A hundred years from now, people will look back to try to understand and fully appreciate the impact of the major structural, societal level transformations, not only on China itself but on the larger community both in Asia and other parts in the world.
Among the many positive developments that have occurred in the past 1 5 years, including increased foreign investment, economic opportunities, and individual wealth (among others), there has emerged a new set of challenges that many communities and families are experiencing. One such challenge is the recent and rapid rise of crime and delinquency over many parts of Chinese society. Rapid increases in crime and delinquency across China have the potential not only to destabilize families but also to influence levels of social cohesion as well as responses by the juvenile and criminal justices systems. Thus, it is important for social scientists (and others) to work toward better understanding how social, structural, economic, and cultural changes in China are fostering negative outcomes, such as crime and delinquency, and the authors of "Social Change, Life Strain, and Delinquency among Chinese Urban Adolescents" have done an admirable job in examining and applying Robert Agnews general strain theory (1992, 2001) to this task.
Agnew's theory provides a highly effective model for understanding how the major macro- and microtransformations of Chinese society are impacting upon the production of delinquency across communities. It is particularly important to fully understand both the range and the depth of the nature of strain that Chinese families and institutions are experiencing. The authors of this paper correctly note that the impact of very salient sources of strain involving economic conditions, especially the role of poverty and increased competition, have placed significant pressure on Chinese families, which is magnified by an increasing cultural emphasis on success. Thus, the nature of economic strain that many Chinese families are experiencing is highly complex, involving not only the impact of diminished financial resources but also the cultural pressure to succeed - in a highly competitive society and in a cultural context whereby parents and extended families are tremendously invested in their children. This potent mix of pressures and strain has consequences for delinquency production.
Thus, family functioning and the provision of familial support in modern China are being influenced by a host of economic pressures. The authors of this paper note the increasing role of the one-child policy on creating pressure on families to invest significantly in the success of their only child, but this cultural expectation is affected by the harsh reality of market forces in a highly competitive environment that incorporates the school systems and the employment markets.
Part of the significance of this article rests with describing and applying the major transformations of Chinese society and their various consequences for delinquency generation, as well as in understanding the nature of macrolevel changes in Chinese society and their impact on microprocesses, which fostet strain and facilitate delinquency production.
Chinese society is experiencing major changes and the authors have done a commendable job illustrating how Agnew's theory of general strain can be useful in understanding the unique strains currently operating in China, as well as take account of why and how some of the mediating processes may be operating. Moreover, the authors usefully describe and illustrate some of the conditioning influences that can magnify the impact of strain on delinquency as well as some of the traditional coping responses. In doing so, the authors have recognized that traditional forms of coping the strict moral code of Chinese society, the emphasis on collective well-being, and the importance of honor, particularly honor within one's family - have been eroded by the massive economic transformations. …