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Socio-economic strata that have emerged in the Post Mao Zedong period in China

Updated on January 6, 2020
shanghai china at night
shanghai china at night

Social strata that emerged in the Post Mao Zedong period

China`s real gross domestic product has grown annually at an average rate of about 10% in the post-Mao’s neoliberal era(Morisson 2019). Perhaps this immense growth can be accrued to the change of policies that encouraged migration of workers from their rural setting to urban centers. This floating population has provided cheap labor for china’s ever-growing manufacturing and building industries. The new reforms of the post-Mao’s neoliberal markets have also witnessed institutionalized social stratifications. It is no wonder that the immigrating urban populace who make up the largest of the middle class as direct producers, may feel alienated by the same state government that encourages them to migrate. Although the state campaigns for a Xiaokang socialist society, it will be imperative for china`s government to make further reforms that will grant more social freedom to the migrating urban population by 2030, if they are to achieve the 1 billion urban population target. This paper explores different aspects of post Mao neo-liberal markets, the new social strata that have emerged, the role the state has played in controlling socio stratification and the socialism in a Xiaokang society in this new era.

In the post-Mao neoliberal era, there has been increased job mobility that has arguably put china in its current position of leading exporter globally. According to Miller, the Mao Zedong communist party significantly controlled the rural-urban migration and prevented farmers from moving to urban areas during the Mao Zedong regime (12).In the 1980s however, there was an influx of rural migrants in the south-east ports of Shenzhen as the government eased bureaucrats that hindered migration. Consequently, various major global companies began mushrooming along the coast on the realization of the availability of cheap labor (Miller 12). Researchers estimate that the number of private companies in urban China grew from 100,000 in the 1990s to 6.59 million in 2008(Lu 109). The migration led to the exponential growth of manufacturing industries in contrast to the stagnant agricultural sectors which most migrant workers had been forced to pursue in the Mao era. These post-Mao neoliberal market reforms improved the economic status of over 300 million citizens, and today, only 30 million Chinese citizens are considered destitute (Lu 109). Although the post-Mao policies led to immense economic growth, they also had their share of negative consequences. The increase in the population of migrant workers has put a strain in the public housing resources available for the working migrants.

Increased job mobility in the post-Mao era led to the inevitable increased pressure on the limited housing facilities in the urban centers. The Mao regime imposed migration bureaucrats because it wanted farmers to specialize in food production to cater to the urban population. However, after the loosening of these bureaucrats, there has been a spike in the number of migrant workers over the past three decades. Such a rapid increase in population was unanticipated and therefore unplanned. Currently, most migrant workers live in shoddily built villages at the fringes of metropolises, company dormitories, and some on the shop floors(Miller 18). The hukou system worsens the situation by putting bottlenecks for migrant workers who wish to settle permanently in urban centers. Miller notes that even though migrant workers toil more hours than native urbanites, only one fifth can enjoy housing with simple luxuries such as a private kitchen and lavatory (22). Although the state is trying to come up with cheaper housing for migrant workers, the population is speculated to rise by 250 million people as more migrant workers stream in and because of other factors such as natural population growth. The number of young working-class citizens who want to settle permanently in urban centers is increasing, and the current communist government must find a solution to the housing woes.

The rapid increase in urban population has caused social stratifications amongst Chinese citizens. The post-Mao regimes upheld rules that divided the Chinese social structure into distinctive categories, namely; the rural migrant workers, native urbanites, and the peasants. The hukou system and the collectivism ownership of land are the primary tools the state uses to control actively govern and regulate the different socio class stratifications and their everyday lives. Although the restrictions by the hukou system lessened, the system still hinders permanent settlement of migrants in the urban centers. Miller notes that the hukou system ties people to the areas of registration for access to social welfare, such as subsidized housing, education, and healthcare(19). Migrant workers, therefore, send their children to the village to get free training, which is somewhat expensive or inaccessible in the urban state-owned schools. The hukou system also requires citizens to provide proper documentation to permanently settle in urban centers. Another method the Chinese government uses to prevent permanent movement is the use of collectivism ownership of land. The migrant workers who ignore the hukou and settle in the urban centers have their land rights sequestered and risk dispossession of their land rights without compensation(Miller 19). Undoubtfully, these neoliberal reforms by the state have caused a distinctive stratification of the Chinese into economic and social classes of peasant farmers, rural migrants and native urbanites that need integration for a cohesive national growth.

Although both the Chinese and the western definitions of social middle classes foster for human rights above property rights, the Chinese Xiaokang middle class may slightly differ, The Xiaokang ideology of the middle-class campaigns for a moderately well off population (Lu 112). The Maoism regime promoted Datong, a form of communism whereby the wealth and social resources belonged to the community at large. However, Deng Xiaoping introduced the ideology which encourages competitiveness as families owned their private funds and abide by laws set up by elites(Lu 116). Xiaokang is an integration of communism and individualism whereby although the elites get the lion share, a majority of the population also benefits. Xiaokang is socialism from afar because although it encourages collectivism, for instance, in the ownership and control of farms, it also gears for competition amongst people of different social classes. The result is an economy fuelled by the incentive of each individual to improve their lives. Monbiot, however, notes that these neoliberal reforms cause stiff competition leading to stifling assessment and supervision, a situation where the winners take all, and the losers garner nothing(2016). Although there are differences in opportunity availability, they have not prevented the cooperation of people of different social strata as they need each other, the capitalists pulling factors of production together while migrant workers provide labor for the growing industries.

Summing up, the Xiaoping policies have led to the emergence of new social classes, namely the elite, mid-level class of direct producers, high-class and small business owners, and the low-level unemployed classes. Most researchers perceive the social stratification in china is occupational rather than hierarchical. Although the Chinese see it as flimsy to classify themselves in hierarchical terms, significant social stratifications transpire (Lu 117). The elite class is the body of officials that governs the rest. The middle class makes up the majority of the Chinese citizens as they are the primary labor force which is involved in the direct production process. The high-class citizens and small business owners are not engaged in direct production but benefit from high incomes. They have an advantage over the middle-level citizens as they have capital and power. These capitalists mainly acquire revenue from the profiteering of their various business ventures. Lastly, there is a low class which consists of unemployed people, and those whose hope of being sustainable has dwindled(Lu 118). I believe that as long as different courses of the Chinese population continue to have different economic power, polarisation amongst these classes will continue to occur. The government should provide equal opportunities for people of all levels to mitigate the growing internal financial gaps between people of different social levels,


Works cited

Lu, Hanlong. 2010 The Chinese middle class and Xiaokang society.China`s emerging middle class.Beyond economic transformation. Washington, DC.Brooking Institution Press, pp. 105-127

Miller, Tom. China's Urban Billion: The Story Behind the Biggest Migration in Human History. London: Zed Books, 2012. Internet resource.

Monbiot, George. “Neoliberalism – the Ideology at the Root of All Our Problems.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Apr. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot.

Morisson, Wayne M. China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States. Vol. 97, CRS, 2019, pp. 1–1 https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL33534.

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