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The Urban Dibao: Guarantee for Minimum Livelihood or for Minimal Turmoil?

  • University of California Irvine, US


In China, we allow some people to become rich first through their own efforts, but an excessive income gap will destabilize social order, and is something that needs government attention…The side effects of this huge gap are mainly seen in the following… aspects. First, as earnings increase, living standards have been generally raised, but low-income groups are slow to reap the rewards of this prosperity for a number of reasons. In the long term, this will trigger emotional dissatisfaction and affect social stability… (D. Wang, 2007)
The Urban Dibao: A Minimum Livelihood Guarantee
to Guarantee Minimal Commotion
Dorothy J. Solinger
University of California, Irvine
November 2008
In China, we allow some people to become rich first through their own efforts, but
an excessive income gap will destabilize social order, and is something that
needs government attention...The side effects of this huge gap are mainly seen
in the following..aspects. First, as earnings increase, living standards have been
generally raised, but low-income groups are slow to reap the rewards of this
prosperity for a number of reasons. In the long term, this will trigger emotional
dissatisfaction and affect social stability…(Wang, D. 2007)
These words concede that the regime’s switch to market incentives and
competition-based compensation has yielded increasing income differentials. It
is no secret that the incidence of urban indigence shot upward once state and
collective enterprises were enjoined to cut back drastically on their workforces in
and after the mid-1990s; at the same time, with the total overhaul of the socialist
economy and its institutions the traditional welfare entitlements were also taken
away (“Zhongguo chengshi” 2006; Wang, Y. 2004: 71-97) leaving losers at a
total loss.
In the 1990s, as the Chinese leadership became cognizant of and deeply
concerned over these negative social externalities of marketization, its members
agonized over the potential political impact of these deprivations on its hallowed
objectives of social stability, inter-group and a successful project of state
enterprise reform. For securing all of these aims was deemed essential to the
grander goal that has undergirded every undertaking of the post-Mao state: this
was the modernity of the nation, particularly of its metropolises. Accordingly, the
political elite initiated a novel welfare approach to handle the people most
severely affected by economic restructuring.
After a half dozen years of grass-roots experimentation, in the place of the old
urban work-unit-grounded, relatively universal, automatic security entitlements granted
by the enterprises in the municipalities of the socialist era, the state inaugurated a
discretionary, means-tested cash transfer program (Cook 2008), the Minimum
Livelihood Guarantee [zuidi shenghuo baozhang], popularly referenced as the “dibao.” If
not in intent at least in fallout it is much akin to what Tony Judt has written of “modern
welfare reform” in Western settings, in that both introduce “conditionality” into “social
citizenship” by forcing the beneficiaries to “pass certain tests and demonstrate
appropriate behavior” (Judt 2007: 24). Perhaps it is most surprising to find this practice
in a state that for its urban residents was once considerably egalitarian and rather
The charge of the dibao was to provide for urban residents whose
household income failed to reach a locally-determined minimal threshold; the
method was to supplement that income to the extent necessary to bring the
family’s monthly wherewithal up to the level deemed requisite for basic survival in
that region (Hussain et al. 2002). The project was proudly labeled by its
publicists a “standardized, legalized, social guarantee system” (Ding, L 1999: 7),
a characterization more aspirational than actual, especially at the time of the
plan’s national promulgation in September 1999 (“Chengshi jumin” 1999: 16-17).
Much like “reformed” Western welfare programs, it reeks of distrust of its objects;
unlike similar schemes in democracies, however, its administrators are ably
assisted by the recipients’ co-residents in their community courtyards.
The idea behind the policy amounted to supplying impoverished
individuals with funds that were “just enough to keep body and soul together,” in
the words of its leading scholar within China, Tang Jun (Tang 2002b: 4). Its
upshot--intended or not--was to render the recipients, the dibao duixiang or the
dibaohu [minimum livelihood guarantee targets or minimum livelihood
households] politically pacified, socially marginalized and excluded, silent and
discarded, the effectual detritus of the country’s modern, metropolitan
development. Thus a people whose plunge in plight was manufactured by a
state-sponsored market incursion was set to be further manipulated by the
And since the provisions of the program in many ways confine the payees
and their progeny to a long-term life of penury, operatively ensuring that they all
be denied any opportunity for upward mobility, it seems fair to see it as a ticket to
membership in a permanent underclass. Indeed, in a number of cities that have
announced their policies (and perhaps everywhere) dibao households are
specifically enjoined against arranging a good education for their children,
owning electronic products, using too much electricity, eating decently, earning
money or bearing excess offspring, in short against thriving, propagating, or living
more than a bare-bones existence. An irony is that even as a drive for modernity
brought this grouping into being, these now-paupers--too old, too ignorant, too
unskilled, too unwell1--are themselves set to remain as dregs of the past, debris
of the old, ousted order, unable to enter the gates to the future, placed thusly,
presumably, in the interest of not threatening the nation’s onward progress
(Bakken 2000:59-74, 433-34 has a similar logic on the linkages between stability
and modernization).
Below, I examine the expressed aims of the policy; review its history;
address the difficulties of estimating the numbers of the very poor and their
relation to the numbers served; try to quantify the amounts of funds laid out over
time; and outline the procedures for establishing eligibility and for disbursing the
allocations as well as document attendant mishaps, misunderstandings, and
misappropriations that attend the implementation of the program.
My research entailed interviews with 53 dibao recipient households in
Wuhan in the summer of 2007 (people in communities to which I got connected
through guanxi, or connections, and who were willing to speak with me ans my
assistants). Besides those interviews, I also talked to bureaucrats in charge of
the program in Wuhan and Lanzhou in August 2007, and to community [shequ]
cadres at several Wuhan community offices. My documentary data come
primarily from these sources: for 1996 through 2002, the pieces on the dibao in
the Ministry of Civil Affairs journal, Zhongguo minzheng [China Civil Affairs] then.
For 2003 through 2006, I consulted statistical yearbooks and annual social
development “blue books” published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
(CASS); and for 2006 and 2007, I used official government work reports, 50
official articles found on the Internet,2 and sundry documents collected in Wuhan
and Lanzhou in August and September 2007 and elsewhere. My objective is to
use my data to explore the contours of the program’s effective--not necessarily
deliberate--underlying agenda: to dispose of those discarded by the relentless
unfolding of the market’s rhythms, to purge from sight and sound the anti-modern
mass produced by the Party’s reforms, and to uncover how the process has
begotten a new urban underclass.
Goals and History
The rhetoric of the rules for the program--especially its language of rights
and self-reliance--belie its actual outcomes. The empowering 1999 Regulations
proclaim that those households whose members, living together, have an
average per capita income that is below that needed for a minimal livelihood in
their place of residence “have the right to obtain material assistance with their
basic livelihood.” The statute also alleges that the policy is meant to “encourage
self-support through labor” (“Chengshi jumin” 1999: 16). Yet little, in fact, is
heard either of rights or of spurs to economic autonomy in the speeches of top
leaders; nor are these ideas present in the great majority of other pertinent
government documents. Most critically, the program is administered such that
there is no space for such possibilities, as the material just below evinces. And,
as Tang Jun reported in 2002, “The idea of dibao as a basic right hasn’t
penetrated to the recipients or to society at large yet” (Tang 2002b:35).
In 1997, during the program’s trial period, the Vice Minister the Ministry of
Civil Affairs (the office in charge of the program), termed its significance to lie in
“completing our social security system and promoting the modern enterprise
system’s establishment (Mao 1997:4). Soon after then-Premier Zhu Rongji had
signed the order authorizing the project, a specialist from the Ministry of Civil
Affairs referenced the then-recent Party 15th Congress as having authorized the
project in order to “perfect the traditional social relief system, to establish a
wholesome modern social welfare system, and to guarantee that the economic
system reform, especially the state enterprises’ reform, could progress without
incident [shunli jinbu]” (Wang, Z.: 1999:18).
Once the program was underway the Ministry held that the measure
“relates to whether or not the state’s reform and opening can penetrate and
whether or not the socialist market economic system can develop in a healthy
manner”; it also made a point of advising the localities to “spend a little money to
buy stability” (“Jianli zuidi” 1996: 14). Premier Zhu Rongji, reportedly an
exponent of the project, visited the poorest of China’s provinces on the eve of a
massive injection of finances into it, and proclaimed that: “The dibao’s support of
social stability and guarantee of the reform of the state firms has important
significance; we should strengthen it, should fund it. The center and various
local levels must all gradually increase its funds each year, and central finance
should give necessary subsidies to places in financial difficulty” (Tang 2003:243).
Thus, the paired objectives of securing stability and facilitating the firms’ reform
lay at the core of the program’s promulgation.
Urban governments, reviewing the workings of the project in their own
areas, repeated these same themes. In Shijiazhuang, for one, three aims were
to be achieved: “to give these people a basic stable life, to mitigate the fear of
disturbances, and to get rid of long-term hidden danger” (by “tightening the
relations between the masses and the Party, stabilizing the social order and
eliminating unstable elements” through “soothing peoples’ hearts”). The author
went on to warn of the “approximately 13 million-person new mass of the urban
poor who form a potential threat to the cities’ economic development and social
stability” (Xu, K. 1996:12).
During the years of experimentation, Chongqing leaders promoted the
program for its “three benefits”: for reform and development, for economic
development, and for social stability.” Reference to the system’s mission in
maintaining the low-income masses’ right of basic livelihood was explicitly paired
with promoting social stability (Yuan 1997: 22, 23). In Guangdong, too, while
articulating the “people’s right of basic livelihood,” paired this with “guarantee[ing]
social stability and the uninterrupted progress of the reform of the economic
system (Xu, D. 1998: 9, 10). One writer went so far as to refer to the dibao as a
“tranquilizer,” one that would permit the state enterprises in Shenyang’s Tiexi
district (a site of massive layoffs) to go forward without obstruction, for without it,
this essayist unabashedly penned, “these people must become a burden that the
enterprises would find it hard to throw off..even to possibly arousing even larger
social contradictions” (Ding 1999:7).
Once the new administration of Premier Wen Jiabao had gotten
underway, concern for the poor became linked to the new catchword, “harmony,”
which, in essence, is just a rehashed label for stability. Thus, at the twelfth
national civil affairs convention in late 2006, the Premier’s number one priority
was to show special care for the low-income masses, ensuring their basic
livelihood through the mechanism of the dibao. This, he held, would play a very
important role in “constructing a socialist harmonious society” (“Di shi-erci” 2006).
The next year a paper in the official civil affairs journal emphasized that “the
government demands that every place guarantee whomever should be
guaranteed, to solve the livelihood problems of the urban poor to realize social
stability” (my italics) (“Zhongguo chengshi” 2006).
Concern for the poor for their own sake is sadly missing from these
pronouncements, but not altogether absent. For one example, an article in 1996
from Qingdao characterized the dibao and its associated grants as “being loaded
to capacity with the party and government’s consideration for the urban and rural
poor masses, like a spring rain [or] rain after a drought, it spills into the bottom of
people’s hearts..some poor people call [the dibao certificate] a “warmth card,” a
“life-saving card.” The authors’ instrumental conclusion, however, is rather
transparent, as he asserts that this care and support “wins the broad masses’
trust of the party and government and their praise for the superiority for
socialism” (Yuan and Lin 1998:11).
Only the director of the Ministry’s Relief Office, Wang Zhenyao, put the
“issue of appropriately solving urban poor residents’ livelihood difficulties as an
important task in the country’s present economic and social development” and
set ensuring the people’s right to basic livelihood [jiben shenghuo quanyi] as, in
itself, “an important component part of the government’s role” (Wang and Wang
1998:18). For almost all commentators, then, to become effectively “reformed”
and thus sufficiently modern, China would need to keep disciplined the new
underdogs to which its marketization had given birth. This it has achieved not by
satisfying but by subduing them.
In early 1997, speaking with a journalist, Vice Minister of Civil Affairs, Fan
Baojun reviewed the early history of the program, noting that Shanghai had
successfully pioneered the “dibao” in 1993 (Mao 1997:4-6; Tang 2002b:20)3,
after which the 1994 10th meeting of the civil affairs sector called for its
popularization. Trial points were set up, and in 1995 the Ministry turned this
effort into a ministerial work keypoint. By the end of that year, 14 cities--including
Qingdao, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Dalian, Guangzhou, Wuxi and Haikou, all wealthy
municipalities along the coast--were implementing the system as trial sites. In
the next year, at the Fourth Session of the Eighth National People’s Congress,
the Government Work Report called for gradually establishing the dibao system
nationwide during the period of the Ninth Five Year Plan (from 1996 to 2000). By
the end of 1996, 101 cities had it underway.
The next step--probably not just coincidentally--was taken in September 1997,
around the time of the Fifteenth Party Congress (where then-Party General Secretary
Jiang Zemin emphasized the program twice); this was the meeting, after all, that
accelerated the initiative to speed up layoffs and bankruptcies in money-losing firms
(Jiang; Wang, Y. 2004:132 and Hussain 2002:52-53 draw an explicit connection
between these reforms and the acceleration of the dibao).4 At that point the State
Council issued a notice entitled “On establishing the urban residents’ minimum
livelihood system in the whole country” and demanded the process be completed by the
end of 1999 (Tang 2002b:15-16). And, indeed, as of late 1999, 2,306 cities and towns
had installed the program, with over two million poor people seeing their bare
sustenance underwritten, 79 percent of whom were individuals who had newly become
poor (Ibid.:17).
Then came the publication, under Premier Zhu Rongji’s signature, of the
State Council’s October 1999 relevant regulations, Number 271. Following that,
the trajectory of the project appeared to be one of progressive generosity. In the
first ten months of 1999, 1.5 billion yuan was extended to the target population.
Later in the year, perhaps in anticipation of the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of
the birth of the People’s Republic, plus the likely impending entry of China into
the World Trade Organization (WTO) - with the shock it was expected to deliver
to urban employment5 - the Ministry of Finance arranged an extra 400 million
yuan to be used as supplementary funds during the second half of 1999, and
recipients suddenly received a raise of 30 percent in their allocations, 80 percent
of it coming from the central government (Mao 1997:4-6; Ding 1999:7;
“Chengshi dibao” 2000:22-27; Tang 2002b:17; and Tang 2002a).
By the third quarter of 2000, the numbers enrolled in the program had
increased to 3.237 million (Tang 2002b:18). This history has been characterized
as comprising four developmental phases: an experimental one (mid-1993 to
mid-1995); a phase of extending the system, until the middle of 1997; a
universalization stage (August 1997 to July 1999); and a stage of consolidation,
ending in 2000 (Hussain 2002:53). Up to that point and for another year or two
thereafter, the plan’s steady expansion ran precisely in parallel with the
intensification of China’s market reform and globalization. Thus it is possible to
read its escalation in funding and scope as markers of decision makers’
heightening unease with the protests that profit-chasing was promoting. The final
upgrade of the program came in early 2002—jacking the numbers of participants
up to 22 million--just after China had finally joined the WTO. The Tenth Plan
(from 2001 to 2005) projected the system’s development “from being a random
and temporary sort of relief toward becoming a systematic guarantee” (Zhongguo
jianli 2006).
Truth be told, however, the outlays remained marginal. Even after the big
increase in the number of recipients in 2002 (a surge up to 19.3 million early in
the year from just about 4.57 million people a year before), the people served still
accounted for just 5.8 percent of the nonagricultural population. Yet, as I explain
below, the truly indigent urban population may well be more in the range of 13
percent. In the years that followed, cities tended to raise the subsidies they gave
each household at least once every two years and sometimes even more often,
as the overall urban standard of living within the general population improved; at
certain junctures the central government ordered an increase nationwide, as in
the midst of a bout of inflation in August 2007 (“Urban minimum” 2007). Yet the
total covered never went much above the 22 million of 2002, suggesting a
fundamental stinginess in the system.
The Urban Poor: Definitions, Numbers
Poverty defined; the poverty line
Poverty can be defined either “absolutely” (in terms of the cost of a
specified basket of food and non-food items characterized as the minimum
necessary to fill basic needs), according to Athar Hussain, while “relatively” it
connotes a condition understood with reference to an average expenditure or
income in a reference locality. The concept also can be measured in relation
either to actual expenditure or to the income necessary for fulfilling basic needs
(Hussain 2002:8-20). The cut-off line for the dibao, set separately for each urban
unit (municipalities also set the line for their own suburban areas), amounts to a
combination of these considerations, in that it aims to subsidize households
whose average per capita income falls below the amount necessary for
purchasing basic necessities at the prices prevailing locally.
The Regulations formalizing the system called for setting the outlays
locally in accord with the costs of the amount of food, clothing, and housing
needed for minimal subsistence in a particular area. Designers of the program
put the local authorities in charge of the determination of the line since prices, the
pattern of consumption and the average income per capita vary by area, and also
because it was the city that was to fund a sizable portion of the outlay (Ibid.: 64-
76; Wang, H. 1996b:34).
Originally, under a policy entitled “whoever’s child it is should pay” [shei jia
haizi shei jia bao] enterprises were to care for employees whose families had
become indigent (Wang, H. 1996a:25). Yet this practice soon became
unfeasible, as it was precisely those enterprises in financial distress whose staff
was being dismissed, underpaid or not paid at all. By the time of the
announcement of the final regulations, local financial departments, not firms,
were to share responsibility for underwriting the program with the central
government (Wang, Z. 1999:19).
Then the bureaus of civil affairs, labor, finance, auditing,
personnel,statistics and prices, along with the local branches of the trade union,
were charged with jointly stipulating and, when deemed necessary (as in times of
inflation, when a city’s financial receipts have a good turn or when the standard
of living among the general population of a city has risen)6, hiking up the local
cut-off line (Lu 1998:20; Wang Z.1999: 18, 19).7 Other departments had other,
related functions, e.g., the education bureau had to make sure that the targets’
children’s miscellaneous school fees were cut or cancelled; medical
departments were to do the same for medical fees (Xu, D. 1998:10; Interview,
Lanzhou 5 September 2007).8 Most places also created a special leadership
small group, located within the bureau of civil affairs, to take overall control (Mao
The line had to be set below the minimum wage and also lower than the
benefits for unemployment insurance, supposedly to encourage employment.
But even a recipient’s acquisition of a tiny increment in income through
occasional labor could result in drastic reduction in his/her household’s dibao
disbursement, so some (in my sample, though, just one of 53 admitted to this)
did feel disinclined to seek employment. As summed up in an article in the civil
affairs journal, “the scientific determination of the norm mainly depended on four
factors: residents’ basic livelihood needs; a place’s price level; the degree of
development in the region; and that locality’s financial ability to contribute to the
Thus, the financial situation of the city has a determining impact upon
where the poverty line is set; poorer urban jurisdictions preferred to set the
standard lower to minimize the numbers for which they would be responsible,
whereas in cities with more revenue and where, often, the numbers of the
poverty-stricken are fewer, the line is pegged at a higher level. Larger cities also
tend to have higher living standards and prices as well as bigger budgets. While
initially it was projected that the costs would be shared relatively equally between
the central government and the localities, in practice the portion born by localities
has varied significantly, from sites where the city pays out the bulk or even all of
the allowances to places where essential, sizable assistance from the central
government means that a locale came to bear almost none of the expenses, the
variance a function of a municipality’s economic strength (Wang and Wang
1998:18, 19); Hussain 2002:70; Tang 2002a).9
Among cities, variable ratios between the municipality and its districts are
also locally defined (“Jianli zuidi” 1996). To give one example, as of 1998,
Wuhan divided up responsibilities such that each district got half its funds from
the city government and had to supply the other half itself; in neighboring Hubei
municipalities, such as Xiangfan, Shiyan and Huangshi, the ratios of city-level to
district-level contributions were 6:4, 7:3, and 3:2, respectively (Meng and Tan
1996:19; Zhang 1998:24).10
The authorizing regulations divide the recipients into two types: those who
fit the conditions of the old “three withouts,”11 and those with some minimal
income.12 Sometimes more specific categories were created. One author, for
instance draws these distinctions: the traditional “three withouts”; households in
which there is a person (or persons) at work but the income is still below the
standard set locally, whether because of the household’s high dependency ratio
or their unit’s poor economic results; households in which there are one or more
persons who have received unemployment insurance, but for whom the period
for receiving it has terminated and no work has been found; and a category
simply labelled “others” (Mao 1997:5; “Jianli zuidi” 1996). The three-without
population was to receive the full amount of funds, up to the city’s poverty line,
while households in other circumstances would be given the difference between
the average per capita income in the household and the local poverty line times
the number of members of the household who are living together (Wang Y.
2004:133). But how many really qualify for the dibao resources, nationwide? To
answer that question, we must grapple with the indeterminacy of the numbers of
the poor.
Numbers of poor
The numbers of the urban poor vary with the definition employed. Tang
Jun noted that in 1995 the State Statistical Bureau had estimated that about
24.28 million people could be considered indigent, or 8.6 percent of all urban
residents, at a time when the urban population was counted at about 282.3
million. He calculated that of those, about 4.4 percent of urban residents (or
12.42 million people)--figures that he labeled the “most authoritative statistics
released by the government to date”(Tang 2004b:26)13--were in the category of
the “absolute poor.” Since layoffs shot into the tens of millions soon thereafter, a
much higher count must soon have been realized.
Tang went on to elaborate that other tallies had been put forth, such as
one of about 14 million by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as of August 2000,14 and
one by Zhu Qingfang of the Sociology Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences of over 31 million, or about eight percent of the total urban population
(Tang 2004b:26-28).15 As Athar Hussain explains, the national headcount of the
poor would have ballooned from 14.7 million to 37.1 million had they been
identified in terms of their expenditure instead of their income per head (Hussain
Alternatively, the 2003 Tenth National People’s Congress reported that
“20 million urban residents had become poor as a result of industrial
reorganization” (Wang Y.:2004:52). Reaching an even higher total, a Party
Organization Department report from 2001 disclosed that an investigation done
by the National Statistical Bureau, the State Council Research office and other
units, discovered that, nationwide, 20 to 30 million staff and workers had fallen
into poverty in recent years. With their family members, the paper judged,
altogether these people amounted to 40 to 50 million (Zhonggong zhongyang
zuzhibu 2001:170-71) or almost 13 percent of what was considered the urban
population as of that time.
Given that the maximum number served by the program was slightly over
22 million in the years since its expansion in 2002, this seems to mean that less
than half the truly poor in the country have been served. Indeed, a study using
data from a 2004 Urban Employment and Social Protection Survey carried out by
the Institute of Population and Labor Economics in CASS showed that just 39
percent of all poor households were getting the aid of the dibao program (Wang,
M. 2007:86). Much more extreme than this, research done in 2005 in 56 of
Nanjing’s neighborhoods in 11 urban districts, using a multi-stage stratified
sample, inhich 1,370 of 1,400 questionnaires were returned, reports the poverty
rate to be as high as 23.4 percent there (counting households with an average
monthly income below 240 yuan per capita as poor, one $USD per day at the
time), of whom just 4.2 percent were receiving the dibao, or only about 18
percent of those deserving it (He, Liu, Wu, and Webster 2008). And how much
funding has been committed to assisting those beneficiaries?
Funding: Amounts, Sources and Subsidies
Amounts of funds and their sources
As the numbers of recipients rose over the years the amount of money
committed to the program mounted as well. According to a piece by Tang Jun, in
1999, the year of the State Council’s Regulations (also the year during which the
central government mandated an increase by 30 percent in the amount of
subsidy for each recipient), the central government allocated more than 405
million yuan, about 27 percent of the year’s total dibao expenditure of 1.5 billion,
the remaining portion being doled out by cities. In the next year, the total outlay
doubled to three billion, of which the central financial contribution remained at the
same percentage. But in 2001, when the program’s funds reached 4.2 billion,
the center paid out more than half (55 percent), or 2.3 billion yuan (Tang 2008).16
The year 2002 saw a major jump in the quantity of funds handed out,
totaling 10.53 billion yuan, of which the center paid almost 44 percent (Xinhuanet
2002).17 But even after extra funding was allocated in 2001 and 2002, an official
report admitted that as of early 2002, the national average poverty line across all
participating urban areas was a mere 152 yuan per person per month, equal only
to 29 percent of the 2001 national average urban per capita income (“Zhongguo
chengshi” 2006). In 2003, as much as 15 billion yuan was budgeted, of which
the center dispensed 9.2 billion, with a notable shift in the proportions paid out by
the different administrative levels: over 60 percent came from the central
treasury that year.
But despite what seems to have been a new generosity, in that year the
actual average per person subsidy (the supplement really allocated to each
person) was just 56 yuan per month (Tang 2004:117-18; “Zhongguo jianli”
2006).18 By 2005, the average monthly per capita handout had risen to 70 yuan,
with a probable annual total expenditure in the range of 19.5 billion (Tand
2006:165, 167). Even as disbursements multiplied in yuan, however, the
average amount of the per capita supplement nationwide amounted to a piddling
9.2 percent of average urban per capita income (Ibid.: 168).
As of the end of 2007, when 22.709 million people (300,000 people more
than had been served at the same point a year earlier) (“China’s subsistence
allowance”), living in 10,656,000 households, were enjoying the protection of the
program, the average monthly poverty line around the country had gone up to
182.3 yuan per person, a rise of 12.8 yuan per person over the previous year. At
the same time, the average subsidy nationwide had increased to 102 yuan per
person per month, or 23 percent over 2006. But the funds allocated to the dibao
nationwide each year rose from a miniscule 0.113 percent of government
expenditures in 1999 to a high of 0.61 percent in 2003, even dropping down to
just 0.50 percent, in 2006 (See Table One).19 Given the large increases in
government revenue over these years, it is notable that the percentage of
funding going to the dibaohu did not exhibit a greater rise over time, and that the
numbers served remained more or less fixed after 2002.
In 2007, the average supplement remained only a bare 8.8 percent of the
average monthly urban income nationwide (1,148.83 yuan), at a time when the
norm (or, the poverty line) of 182.3 yuan per person amounted to just under 16
percent of the average urban income, in the Premier’s reckoning (Wen 2008).20
This average, of course, is pulled down by the millions of urbanites residing in
smaller and poorer cities across the nation. It is hard to imagine that the
households so aided could survive with any degree of satisfaction. It is also
striking that the nourishment, educational, and health standards among the
individual dibaohu remained remarkably unchanged and essentially abysmal
over a span of 10 years, as interviewers in 2007 and 2008 found conditions
identical to those described in Tang Jun’s fieldwork a decade earlier.
Other subsidies
In addition to the handout of cash, the dibao program provides special
privileges for recipients, all of which involve discounts and exemptions for the
poverty-stricken. Wuhan, to give one example, offers as many as 12 separate
youhui zhengce [preferential policies], including reductions in rent, and in the
charges for water, food, electricity, fuel, and legal services, as well as exemption
from medical registration and miscellaneous school fees, in addition to various
subsidies (Interview 28 August 2007).21 Not all informants received these
benefits, however; indeed, some had never even heard of them.
In 2007, a number of extra appropriations were made, some locally and
some centrally mandated, such as a one-time bonus for coping with sudden
hikes in the prices of pork and other food products and a program to aid
students in vocational middle schools (Youyu roujia 2007; “Xiangshou chengshi
diabao” 2007). Some municipalities set aside funds for the children of dibao
families who were attending college (“Dibao jiating” 2007). One of the districts of
Guangzhou city distributed certificates for purchasing 20 yuan worth of goods
(Guangzhoushi Liwanqu 2007); while Wuhan allowed poor university students to
apply for loans for their schooling (“Wuhan huji pinkun” 2007). And during the
summer of that year, the State Council authorized a low-income housing
program, aimed at families in financial hardship (Shouzuao fabu” 2007). Beyond
the rules and periodic dispensations, how does the program operate on the
Procedures and their Pitfalls
As the Chongqing Bureau of Civil Affairs Vice-Director wrote about the
city’s 1996 initiation of the project, “thought work” had to precede everything else.
His explanation was that, “The urban dibao system is a wholly new [kind of] work,
[people’s] hidden income is hard to estimate, the situation is complex; if the work
isn’t done properly, it will provoke some new unstable elements and give birth to
new social contradictions (Yuan 1997:23). In other words, the program was
considered likely to result in resentments, anger and jealousies if control were
not exercised over people’s comprehension of the plan. Regardless of
cautionary measures, however, there have certainly been wrinkles in its running,
whether because of dissatisfied recipients, dishonest disbursers, or any other
people who have determined how to finesse the system.
Once the publicity campaign had been waged, further preparatory work in
a given locale might entail several in-depth, large-scale surveys, involving
checking on and verifying family incomes (including figuring out ways to do this),
employment situations and consumption patterns, as well as training personnel,
undertaking multiple censuses, pooling and analyzing statistics and composing
reports. In Chongqing, as many as 600,000 households were scrutinized in the
process! (Ibid.).22 Execution of the system--as is the usual practice for any new
policy in China--was generally done first in one of the larger cities in each
province, to serve as an “experimental point” for the region, and other cities
under the same provincial administration would later follow its example (Zhang
1998).23 Concrete management of the program splits decision making among
four urban levels: the city, the district, the street, and the residents’ community
(replaced by the “community” [shequ] in the early 2000’s, a unit that usually
involved the merger of a couple of residents’ communities). All these
jurisdictions were to share in reporting, registering, investigating, approving,
issuing forms, making modifications, and filing cases (Meng and Tan 1996).
Applicants’ journey toward becoming recipients begins with a written
entreaty accompanied by documentary proof of their penury, to be submitted to
their community office. After filing the request, community officials have a certain
amount of time (set locally, from five to 10 days) to assess the candidate’s
needs and to attempt to verify the paperwork presented. Procedures begin with
a thorough physical search of the household, along with close inquiry of its
members. What follows is a particularly intrusive, sometimes even insidious,
procedure, involving interviewing neighbors and visits to the candidate’s place of
work, if any, to make sure that the applicant has spoken truthfully.
Most embarrassing of all, the results of all the scrutiny are to be posted
upon a public board [the gongshilan], in order to solicit the views not just of
immediate neighbors but of everyone in the community acquainted with the
applicant family’s true state of eligibility and of everyone in a position to see the
targeted family members’ daily comings and goings (Interview, 30 August
2007).24 This notice board is to proclaim the number of members living in every
payee household; how much money each one is receiving, including any special
subsidies; and how much voluntary work (such as neighborhood sanitation,
public security, guarding, or gardening) its relevant members performed in a
given week, such activity being a necessary condition of enjoying the allowance
(Interviews, 29 August 2007).25
Once the community officers have made their tentative appraisal of a
case, the file goes up to the street level, where another week or so is spent
reviewing the materials, with street officials’ deliberations also posted on the
community’s board. After the same length of time has passed, the records are
delivered to the district level, where managers do a reexamination. The
judgments about those who so far seem to meet the necessary conditions must
once again be subjected to public view. Only if there are no objections, finally
the City Civil Affair Bureau gives its stamp of approval and the candidate then
becomes a full-fledged “dibaohu.”
Families admitted into the program are then extended a “baozhangjin
lingquzheng” [certificate for collecting the funds], which their head is to carry,
along with his/her household registration booklet and identification card to claim
the allowance, either monthly or by quarter, depending upon the method adopted
in the community. Subsequent, regular inspections (sometimes as frequently as
every three months, in other cases just every six, to discover whether or not the
recipients have found work (Interview, 5 September 200726) are meant to certify
that the family remains qualified to enjoy the subsidy. When its situation or
income changes (because of a retirement, a death in the family, a new odd job,
or alterations in health), the household head is to notify the dibao office in its
community to arrange for stopping, reducing or increasing the outlays (Wang, Z.
1999:19; Interview, 27 August 2007). 27
There are conspicuous variations in the approaches taken by different
municipalities in administering the dibao. In his 1998-99 investigation, Tang Jun
and his research group found that, perhaps because of the weak economic base
of Lanzhou, that city adopted a more mobilizational approach to its indigent than
did other cities. Officials there “emphasized arousing the dibao targets’ activism
for production, encouraging and organizing them to develop self-reliance” (Tang
2002b:25). Whether for this reason or simply as a matter of a disparate style of
urban management, Lanzhou was more lenient toward sidewalk business than,
for instance, Wuhan. In the latter city, a talented but hard-up woman complained
that the fees for advertising her artwork on the streets had escalated substantially
over time, so that she was forced to abandon any effort to try to make sales
(Interview 26 August 2007). And, unlike in the past, after 2000 nowhere in the
city could shoe repair specialists be found outside, apparently banned by the
But in Lanzhou, all manner of curbside business went on unobstructed in
summer 2007, including stalls for fixing footwear as well as that of young men
hawking political picture posters (Observations, 3 September 2007). Reflecting
this permissiveness, the section chief of the dibao office in the Gansu provincial
civil affairs department admitted that “if the chengguan [the police in charge of
maintaining order in public spaces]”--the very same body that has often chased
poor and unemployed persons off the avenues of Wuhan--”is too strict, the
dibaohu cannot earn money. And letting them earn money is a way of cutting
down their numbers. If their skill level is low, their only means of livelihood can
be the streetside stalls they set up themselves” (Interview 5 September 2005).
Pitfalls and disentitlement: exclusions and embezzlements
The stated good intentions of the dibao program conceal two sorts of
perverse outcomes. The first sort often means denying funding to truly needy
people. It entails regulations dictating the exclusion of persons who, however
poverty-stricken, are trying to (or in the past did) upgrade a totally minimal
existence, thereby turning them and their offspring into a perpetual underclass.
Similar in effect are practices treating poor people “as if” they had payments
coming to them that ought to have come but which have not, again disqualifying
appropriately indigent citizens from receiving the allowance. These prohibitions
amount to marginalization via state--even if just local state or local officials’--
The other sort of unintended outcome evidently occurs sufficiently
frequently as to be inveighed against in both official documents and conversation
with program managers. This is the result of loopholes allowing for
embezzlement, deception and defrauding, usually on the part of the officials in
charge but also sometimes on the part of the program’s recipients. All these
behaviors obstruct the achievement of the project’s announced objectives,
achieving marginalization by subversion of state design. Whether by dictates or
by their debasement, both categories of activity produce disentitlement.
Exclusions: marginalization via state design
In August 2007, the city of Jinan ruled that anyone who had purchased a
computer or who often uses a cell phone could not enjoy the dibao (“Jinan
guiding” 2007). Beijing’s regulations preclude persons from getting the dibao
who had bought cell phones, arranged for their children to attend schools of their
own choice or private schools, or who kept domestic pets. In Liaoning, using a
household phone more than 15 percent more than the local dibao norm or even
having received gifts whose value was above the poverty line disqualified
potential partakers. In Hainan, having births outside the plan can bar from
benefits an otherwise needy household (Hainan guiding 2006). Elsewhere, some
places banned people from becoming recipients if they had a family business,
regardless of its profits or losses--firms losing money and incapable of supporting
the family’s livelihood could be known to spark quarrels between civil affairs
departments and an applicant (“Zhongguo chengshi” 2006).
In Wuhan, among the circumstances that could deprive the destitute of
succor were having a motorized vehicle (unless it was required because of
disability); doing odd jobs for which the wages are hard to verify; using any hand-
held communication device (even if having obtained it as a gift or a loan) or going
on the Web (Interview 27 August 2007).28 Several interviewees in Wuhan found
their families’ dibao funds cut back or cut off when a member did take on some
wage-earning work. In one case a wife’s street-sweeping led to deductions that
left four people to survive on some 500-plus yuan per month Interview).
Also forbidden was enrolling a child in special classes or studying with a
foreigner. Grantees took that guideline seriously, as did a mother of a 16-year-
old boy: “This year his grades could qualify him to transfer to the Number 3
Senior High School, a provincial-level keypoint institution. But I don’t have the
money and secondly, if it’s discovered that there’s a child in the family who has
transferred to a keypoint high school, our dibao qualification would be eliminated.
We can’t take this risk. He really wants to study in that school, but he knows the
family’s conditions, so he doesn’t demand it of me; I feel I have really let my son
down,” she fretted (Interview).
A set of “as if” ostracizations serve the same purpose of reducing a
locality’s financial responsibility, if by other means. Here the justification is:
“Since household income is very difficult to determine, hidden employment is
pervasive, and hidden income and assets [are known to exist], flexible standards
are adopted everywhere” (“Zhongguo chengshi” 2006). This refers to the
practice whereby families are rejected in which a member has the ability to work
but has not found employment, by considering the person as having received the
wages he/she would have earned had the person been on a job. In other words,
such reckoning “regards as income” salary or benefits that ought to have been--
but were not--paid to a person, using the person’s city’s minimum wage or
unemployment insurance subsidy to assess the amount of the supposedly
received income or benefit and then considering it as if it were the person’s
actual income (“Chengshi dibao” 2000:24-5). A variant is to count the funds that
a person’s legal supporter ought to be giving him or her as part of that person’s
income, even if s/he never really gets it (“Zhongguo chengshi” 2006).
Embezzlements and other violations: marginalization via subversion of state design
Unlike the practices detailed above, which are rationalized through local
regulations (though criticized in central-level documents and articles) are outright
violations of the policy, committed by parties on both sides of the deal. First of all,
administrators may or may not receive the funds they should, probably because some
of the money disappears along the way down the hierarchy to their offices. As one
analyst expressed it, “there’s a black box” containing the intermediary links set up to
allocate the capital (Tang 2003:247). Where there are real financial shortages
provincial treasuries have appropriated some of the funds for other purposes (Tang
2002a). In the poorest and most backward places preferential policies are often
ignored; even where the funds are sufficient, departments that should make the
discounts do not find it in their interest to comply (“Zhongguo chengshi” 2006).
Dereliction of duty can take other forms, such as playing favorites or falling into arrears
(“Chengshi jumin” 1999:17). One study found that on average families obtain 36.5 yuan
less than local authorities reported to upper levels (Gong 2000:34).
There are instances too of dishonesty among the targets. Some dibaohu
falsely report their income, forge documentary evidence, or otherwise conceal
their earnings or assets. There also are instances of what what civil affairs
essayists depict as “mistaken thinking” among the beneficiaries, such as those
said to “take the responsibility they themselves should bear and push it off to
society and to the government,” demanding, for example, that the state give their
old parent a supplement, even when there are five or six siblings who could
shoulder the burden. Others of strong body “refuse to use their two hands to
work but instead play cards all day, out of love of ease and hatred for work,” or
so officials claim. Then there are those who, lacking the proper qualifications,
“view the dibao as a basic right, and want it just because others have it,
stretching out their hands under the supposition that everyone should get a
share.” Yet others, just because they have been laid off believe they naturally
deserve the allowance, whether they have a job or not, and even if they have an
adequate source of income.29
One Wuhan community leader explained that without a systematic, societal-wide
credit system there is no way to check on whether dibao targets are also getting a
monthly pension. She alluded to misinterpretation of the program as the root of some
inappropriate appeals. In particular, there are residents in ill health whose necessary
outlays go beyond their means, but who fail to comprehend that the dibao is based on
income not on expenditures, and thus is not geared to help people meet all their costs.
Asked whether there were troublemakers, she was quick to affirm it: “There are some
residents who create unusual difficulties,” she reported, such as those who “clearly don’t
fit the criteria for getting the dibao but still press for it,” who often run about shouting
verbal threats.” She judged that more detailed regulations are needed to prevent some
people from taking advantage of the policy’s loopholes and thereby wasting the state’s
The dibao program was admittedly put into place to do nothing more than
to meet the most minimal requirements of the targeted needy. Above all, they
were not to disturb the forward march of the nation onward toward progress,
whether by commotion on the pavement or by dragging down the productivity of
their former factories. Perhaps without actively or truly meaning to mold their
situation in this way, the state has dealt with the dibaohu in a manner that
maintains them and their children either sickly and therefore off the streets or
else insufficiently schooled to advance in society; out of work and eating too little
to grow strong enough to challenge the state. And those able to improve their
prospects by providing extra education for their children or by using computers,
or to brighten their existence by communicating on cell phones or by seeking
entertainment become for these reasons ineligible. No leader of the country
would be likely to acknowledge the playing out of this subtext. But this paper has
demonstrated that both the regulations that shape this program and the regimens
used in enforcing it--whether by design or by subterfuge--marginalize the most
indigent among the urbanites. Thus, to date, we have heard nearly nothing
about a new underclass in the cities. This paper is an effort to beam light on its
The Dibao as a Percent of Government Expenditures, 1999-2007
unit = billion yuan
1999 1.5 1318.77 0.113 8967.7 0.016
2000 3 1588.65 0.188 99214.6 0.03
2001 4.2 1890.258 0.22 10965.5 0.038
2002 10.53 2205.315 0.477 12033.3 0.0875
2003 15 2464.995 0.608 13582.3 0.11
2004 n.a. 2848.689 n.a. 15987.8 n.a.
2005 19.5 3393.028 0.57 18386.8 0.106
2006 20.33 4042.273 0.503 21180.8 0.096
2007 27.796 4956.54 0.561 24660 0.1127
Sources: For the dibao, the figures are either taken from or estimated from the
following sources: Tang 2008; Xinhuanet (Beijing), July 19, 2002); Tang 2004a;
Tang 2006. For government expenditures (1999-2006), Zhonghua renmin 2007:9.
For GDP, Ibid.:57. For 2007, Wen: 2008; and Ministry of Finance 2008.
Year # recipients
1999 (late) 2.8
2000 (3d qtr.) 3.237
2001 (end) 11.7
2002 (July) 19.307
2002 (end) 20.647
2003 (end) 22.468
2004 (end) 22.05
2005 (end) 22.342
2006 (end) 22.401
2007 (end) 22.709
Sources: For 1999: Tang 2002b:15-16; for 2000, ibid., 18; for 2001 and 2002 (July) ,
Hong 2002:9-10; for 2007, “National urban and rural residents, the minimum livelihood
guarantee system for equal coverage,”
CN&u=,accessed March 18, 2008. For 2002, 2003,
2004, 2005, 2006 (end of year figures), Zhonghua renmin 2007:899.
1According to an investigation reported in “Zhongguo chengshi,,” among adult targets, those with primary education
and below represented 24.1 percent and 46.5 percent had been to junior high school, together amounting to 70.6 percent
without any senior high school training. A mere 27.6 percent of these people boasted of having some sort of
professional or handicraft skill, while just 2.9 percent claimed to have some work. As for their health, the Ministry of
Civil Affairs announced that in a national study of 10,000 dibao households, 33.7 percent have disabled people, and
64.9 percent had one or more members with a chronic illness or serious illness.
2My thanks to Kam Wing Chan for introducing me to a portal on the Web containing a wealth of official articles.
According to Tang 2002b:20, Shanghai’s motives for creating the system revolved around the transformation of the
enterprises’ operational mechanism and the restructuring of the labor employment system, which, combined, had
produced a large amount of unemployment and “laying off.” The city government found that the relief system aimed at
the original three welfare targets or the “three withouts” (those unable to work, those without means of livelihood and
those without family support) was inadequate and therefore came up with this plan.
There, Jiang put forward two critical chores at the 1997 Congress: to adjust and improve the ownership structure, and
to accelerate the reform of state-owned enterprises.
draw an explicit connection between these reforms and the acceleration of the dibao.
There, Jiang put forward two critical chores at the 1997 Congress: to adjust and improve the ownership structure, and
to accelerate the reform of state-owned enterprises.
5That fall, the United States signed its bilateral agreement with China, a necessary and significant prelude to China’s
entry. In the intervening two years before the formal entry took place, Chinese labor economists prepared for the worst.
See, for instance, Mo 2000:18-21
6Some cities routinely raise the line every year or, in the case of Wuhan and some other places, every two years.
Interview, head of the dibao section at the Wuhan Civil Affairs Bureau, August 28, 2007.
Lu 1998:20 notes that the 1999 Regulations stipulated that the line could only rise, not fall.
8The civil affairs departments provide these other offices with a namelist of the dibaohu in their jurisdiction, and it is
then up to the offices to provide the relief. Other departments with similar charges are those who take care of housing,
legal aid, coal, water, and electricity. The interview was with the head of the dibao office under the Gansu Provincial
Civil Affairs Department.
Hussain, writing in 2002, said that only 21 of the 31 provincial-level units contributed toward the cost of the dibao. But
an article by Tang Jun, also published in 2002, states that, “With the exception of Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, Jiangsu,
Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong, all the other provinces got the central government’s financial subsidies.”
10The Wuhan ratio was set in 1996 when the program began in that city. Figures for the other cities are in Zhang 1998.
Zhang was then Director of the Hubei provincial Department of Civil Affairs.
See note 3, above.
This is the eighth point in the Regulations. For the Regulations, see “Chengshi jumin” 1999:16.
13 Tang’s source is “Wo guo” 1997.
Tang 2002a reports that the State Statistical Bureau’s urban survey group, employing a calorimetric and then a food
shopping method set the poverty lines in different provinces and then estimated that the indigent population was 14.8
million at that time
15Tang 2004:27. Yang Yiyong of the State Planning Commission’s Development Research Institute as noting that, since
workers in firms that have cut back on production or become bankrupt may not have been counted, it is possible that
even Zhu’s estimate could be conservative. In Zhu 2004:88, Zhu calculates that while he estimates that about 6.5
percent of the urban population could be counted as poor, the Asian Development Bank--using expenditure as a
standard--found 37 million to qualify as poor, or more like eight percent of the urban population.
Hussain, 2002:70 has different figures: he states that the total expenditure in 1999 was just 1.97
billion yuan, and 2.2 billion in 2000, of which the central government contributed 20.3 percent and
24.1 percent, respectively. Since I must make a choice, I intend to base my analysis on Tang’s
figures, since he is in Beijing permanently and works closely with official figures on an ongoing
4.6 billion yuan came from the central treasury and 5.93 billion from local governments, according to Xinhuanet 2002).
Thanks to Jane Duckett for this citation.
18“Zhongguo jianli” (2006) states that the average norm in 2003 nationwide was 149 per capita per month, which had
increased to 162, on average, by the third quarter of 2006, with the supplement rising from 58 to 80 yuan per capita per
month, on average, over those three years.
These calculations are based upon the figures for governmental expenditure in Zhonghua renmin gongheguo 2007: 279.
Hussain 2002:71 states that in 1999 the expenditure on the dibao amounted to 0.15 percent of total government
20According to Premier Wen Jiabao’s annual government work report, delivered on March 5, 2008, the average annual
per capita income for urbanites in 2007 was 13,786 yuan, one twelfth of which (or the monthly average) is 1148.33
The interview, was at the Wuhan Municipal dibao office of the City Civil Affairs Bureau.
In Chongqing’s case, 600,000 households were inspected. The Director of Hubei’s Department of Civil Affairs set
down a similar set of procedures that were used in that province in Zhang 1998. Qinghai combined random sample
surveys and household interviews to determine the minimum consumption expenditures common in various places, and,
by late 1998 was utilizing software, automatic calculators, automatically tabulated printing, and microcomputer
management (“Qinghaisheng 1999:24).
Zhang mentions Wuhan as having played that role in Hubei.
24The interview was with officers at community W, an area with about 1,600 residents, of whom only about one percent
are dibaohu.
The interviews were at community Y containing over 4,000 people, and community Z.
The interview with the director of the dibao office at the Guansu provincial Civil Affairs Department.
27The interview was with dibao workers at community X, where there are 1,099 households, of which 7.9 percent are
28The interview was at Community X.
Gong, op. cit..
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... While dibaohu is not entirely similar to slum-dwellers or in-city residents in terms of marginalisation, they experience marginalisation as constrained rights. The Dibaohu experience marginalisation via state design as dibao via the subversion of state design as the dibao criteria leads people to cheat the state in order to qualify (Solinger 2010). ...
... Social assistance programmes have long had an equalising effect due to systematic targeting of weak and marginalised groups, which raises the expectation of the dibao programme to enhance equality. However, its equalising effects are potentially decreased by financial shortfalls in public budgets, its narrow targeting of households with a local hukou, restrictive regulations, and different forms of embezzlement and fraud (Solinger 2010). Health insurance programmes such as the NRCMS offer only partial coverage regarding the types of services and drugs consumed and the share of the overall costs they reimburse. ...
... He also suggested that the criteria for dibao eligibility create poor quality of life and further exacerbate stigmatization and social segregation. 20 Several empirical studies, such as those by Joe Leung and Meng Xiao in Beijing,21 Yu-Cheung Wong and his colleagues in Shanghai, 22 Chak Kwan Chan and Kinglun and Kinglun Ngok in Guangzhou,23 and Solinger in Wuhan,24 support the argument of exclusion -rather than inclusion -in dibao implementation. ...
Full-text available
Since the early 21st century, the Chinese government has proactively expanded social protection by providing better benefits and broader coverage for its people. However, a new puzzle has emerged in the Minimum Living Standard Scheme, ‘last resort of social protection’ in China. Normally, when the benefit standard is set higher, relatively more people situated below this line are entitled to receive assistance. However, in reality fewer people than expected receive support. We study the case of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, to explain this phenomenon and analyse the social citizenship of marginalized groups in urban China. We reveal the decline in replacement rates and tighter conditionality applied to defining the ‘deserving poor’ by reviewing administrative data and policy documents from 1995 to 2016. Drawing on the longitudinal qualitative study conducted between 2009 and 2011, we further illustrate how the decreased replacement rate and tighter conditionality diminish the well-being of the poor. Our findings on policy changes and their outcomes in Guangzhou provide some important insights into poverty governance and social citizenship under China’s social development in the past decade.
The Minimal Living Standard Allowance System (MLSAS), established by the Chinese central government in the late 1990s, was intended to provide basic needs for urban and rural low‐income populations. Although the subsidy standards of MLSAS have increased rapidly over the years, its distributions in time and space were found imbalanced. Using the per capita subsidy income (PCSI) data of 338 Chinese cities from 2008 to 2016, this study quantified the spatiotemporal patterns of the urban‐rural gap and regional differences of MLSAS throughout China and identified the major influential socioeconomic factors of the observed patterns. The results showed that the PCSI of China's low‐income populations increased rapidly but with large variations between urban and rural residents and between geographic regions. The PCSI in rural areas was much lower than that in urban areas, whereas the Gini coefficient of PCSI in urban areas was lower than that in rural areas, indicating the allowance from MLSAS was more unequal among rural residents. Additionally, the higher PCSI was concentrated mainly in three urban agglomerations in eastern China. Most cities in central and western China lagged in terms of PCSI. Correlation analysis between PCSI and socioeconomic factors indicated that the income and GDP per capita were the most important influencing factors. With a better understanding of the overall situation of the urban‐rural gap and regional differences in implementing MLSAS, the current study should help improve the subsistence subsidy policies in China.
This article analyses from a cultural perspective why, despite exacerbating income inequality, Chinese people are not in favour of income equality. I argue that the patriotic education campaign initiated in the 1990s encouraged citizens to sacrifice for the greater good of China and caused the Chinese to accept and adapt to a decrease in governmental welfare as well as lessening the demand for it, thus reducing the government’s financial burden of welfare provision. I then test the hypothesis against the Asian Barometer Survey data. The statistical results support my assertion, suggesting that strong patriotic beliefs reduce the preference for social equality, and that private income and economic perspectives do not significantly stimulate the public demand for redistributive policies in China.
What has driven China, a developing country that has only recently saved itself from nationwide poverty, to increase its investment in social welfare so rapidly and extensively in the past decade? Drawing on extensive field research in a prefecture-level district in southwest China between 2014 and 2017, the authors argue in this article that local governments in China provide welfare housing programmes as a veil for developmentalist industrial policies aimed at industrial upgrading and the improvement of dynamic efficiency. The article demonstrates the unique incentive structure behind the local Chinese governments’ role as the front-line investor in social welfare benefits, and how the local state has cunningly used the façade of welfare provision to (1) divert the earmarked budget to implement development-oriented industrial policy; and (2) fake a discursive congruence between the heavily interventionist local practice and the overall neoliberal central-level policy discourse that features deregulation, small government and a laissez-faire developmental pathway. Exploring this set of strategic dynamics underlining the manoeuvres of the Chinese welfare operation helps us understand the variability of welfare state forms and trajectories of developmental strategy in the Global South.
With hundreds of millions of rural migrant workers now dominating the labor market in China’s fastest growing regions, this group embodies that nation’s most intractable problems of inequality. Young, single, socially disenfranchised rural migrants, particularly men, reportedly experience widespread difficulty in finding a marriage partner, largely because they cannot afford to buy a home. The resulting potential social instability is of pressing concern to the Chinese Communist Party. How do discourses of governmentality reconcile/manage class inequality? How do they construct the future and encourage hope? What moral, cultural, and rhetorical resources does this ideology of the future draw on, and to what extent does it represent a rupture with China’s revolutionary—and traditional—past? Do China’s most disenfranchised socioeconomic groups buy into the “China Dream” rhetoric? This article addresses these questions through a series of “love stories” screened by China Central Television. It pinpoints a particular moment in China’s state capitalism when romantic love became a means of managing, if not solving, social inequality. It uncovers a new discursive blueprint for future state narratives of inequality and brings to light some new ways of restructuring the fantasy of the “good life.”
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To situate today's social assistance program conceptually and historically, this paper presents three ideal-typical stances states may adopt in welfare provision, especially for indigent populations: (1) extend assistance to accord with social citizenship rights—or to fulfill the Confucian concept of the rite of benevolence; (2) offer subsidies to attain support or to pacify anger and silence demands from the poor; or (3) grant benefits (education, health care) to enhance the nation's productivity. The intended beneficiaries of these projects are, respectively, individuals, society and the state, and politicians. This categorization can distinguish, in broad-brush fashion, official handouts at diverse historical moments; the models are meant not so much to characterize entire eras as to illustrate differential styles of allocation. Moreover, each era justifies its practice with reference to Confucian dicta. In this comparative context, today's political elite bestows financial aid—but just a conditional kind—mainly to preempt disturbances and prevent “instability,” in line with the third of the types.
Economic reform in China has resulted in a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and urban poverty has emerged as a key factor which may affect future development. This new book examines the poverty problem in relation to housing and social changes in large inland cities, and assesses the effectiveness of recent government anti-poverty policies. The book also puts the Chinese experience in the wider context of transitional economies and discusses the similarities and differences between China and Central and Eastern European countries. The book is based on a long period of research on Chinese urban development, and benefited from several research projects conducted in Chinese cities. It is an important reference for all of those interested in housing, urban studies and social change, and is a key text for students of the Chinese economy and society.
Based on a large-scale household survey conducted in Nanjing in 2005, this study aims to provide a better understanding of poverty incidence in a contemporary Chinese city, as well as poverty concentration in different social groups. This study reveals a much higher and more realistic poverty incidence among working urban residents, unemployed/laid-off urban residents and rural migrants than the official statistics suggest. To understand poverty concentration in different social groups, the 1370 cases are classified into various categories by hukou status, number of unemployed family members, age, educational attainment and occupation of the head of the household as well as housing tenure. These groups are further categorized into urban households without unemployed, urban households with unemployed, and rural migrants. We compared three types of poverty measures (i.e. FGT indices, the sense of deprivation, and MLSS coverage rate), are compared across different social groups to show different patterns of poverty concentration, in particular the variation in three types of households. This study has multiple policy implications for alleviating poverty in urban China. First, it identifies a huge gap in the existing social safety net. Second, it recognizes several social groups that endure multiple disadvantages and several groups that are unprotected by a social safety net. Third, it confirms the enduring and widening urban–rural division, and suggests that rural migrants remain outside the urban society in terms of both living conditions and social welfare provision.
Informal employment has not been part of the discourse on labour market transition in China. Nonetheless, reforms have given rise to a process of informalisation, casualisation and flexibilisation of employment, with a greater diversity of contract and employment types, and reduced social and labour protections for previously protected urban workers. The scale and nature of informal employment in this context of radical restructuring is not well understood. Reasons for this include inadequate theoretical models of labour market transition, the nature of the data available, as well as the political risks in publicly acknowledging the fundamental erosion of worker entitlements.
In modern China, technocratic utopias go side by side with moral panics. The modernization process is seen as creating the `disorders' of criminality, sex, and modern youth culture. The official answer to disorder is an exemplary societyan educative and disciplinary society where `human quality' and model behaviour is advocated. Modern Chinese society, however, resists being reduced to the exemplary discipline of its social engineers, and strategies of `lying' and resisting control are routine. This pathbreaking study analyses traditional and modern Chinese beliefs about and reactions to education, discipline, human improvement, and social control. Although these reactions to modernity have a Chinese colouring, they are not exclusive to the Chinese culture. By describing the terra incognita of China, The Exemplary Society also describes something about ourselves.
The present paper describes the current urban poverty situation, examines the factors affecting the probability of a household being in poverty and investigates how the urban minimum living standard guarantee (dibao) program helps poor people to get out of poverty. The targeting efficiency of the urban dibao program is discussed. The present study finds that the poverty rate of households with unemployed workers is much higher than that of households without unemployed workers. The urban dibao program is helpful in reducing poverty rates, but it does not reduce poverty rates too much. The government should place emphasis on helping laid-off and unemployed workers to become reemployed. The most urgent problem for the dibao program is improving the efficiency of targeting. Copyright 2007 Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.