This groundbreaking book powerfully humanizes the little-known urban workers who have been left behind in China’s single-minded drive to modernize. Dorothy Solinger traces the origins of their plight to the mid-1990s, when the Chinese government found that state-owned factories were failing in large numbers in the face of market reforms just as the country was about to enter the World Trade Organization. Under these circumstances, leaders urged firms to lay off tens of millions of previously lifetime-employed, welfare-secure, under-educated, middle-aged employees. As these dislocated people were left without any source of livelihood, the regime settled on a tiny welfare effort, the Minimum Livelihood Guarantee (dibao), to provide some support and, most important from the viewpoint of the leadership, to keep them quiet so that enterprise reform could proceed peacefully. Solinger explores the induced urban poverty that resulted and relates the painful struggle for survival of these discarded laborers. She also details the history and workings of the dibao and its missteps, as well as changes in policy over time. Drawing on dozens of interviews, this book brings to life the urban workers who have been relegated to obsolescence, isolation, and invisibility by China’s quest for modernity.
Dorothy J. Solinger is professor emerita of political science at the University of California, Irvine. Her books include Chinese Business under Socialism; State’s Gains, Labor’s Losses; Contesting Citizenship in Urban China; and Polarized Cities: Portraits of Rich and Poor in Urban China.
List of Tables and Figure
SECTION I: BACKGROUND
1 Three Shifts in State Mission
2 Urban Poverty and Its Paltry Palliatives
3 The Dibao and the Dibaohu
SECTION II: EXPERIENCES OF LAYOFF AND DIBAO
4 Xiagang: From Master to Mendicant
5 Dibao: Management and Missteps
6 Dibao: Survival and Perspectives
SECTION III: COMPARISONS AND VARIATIONS
7 “Social Assistance?”: A Comparative Perspective
8 Dibao: Differential Disbursement
SECTION IV: HARSH CHANGES
9 Policy Manipulations
10 Denouement: Drastic Cut in the Dibao Rolls—
Did Pensions Replace the Dibao?
Following her widely acclaimed studies on the citizenship of peasant migrants and industrial workers, Dorothy Solinger—a world authority on China’s politics and social policies—provides another incredibly detailed and forceful account of the plight of the working class and welfare retrenchment. This extraordinary book is a testimony to China’s painful social engineering to modernity.
In this interesting book, Dorothy Solinger crystallizes her long-standing research on China’s urban poor, exposing the government’s miserable treatment of a huge number of former workers who had once been loyal stalwarts of Maoist socialism. Drawing from a vast amount of field notes and documentation, she analyzes the manipulative mechanisms by which different levels of the government have been able to relegate this sector of the populace to marginal oblivion.
Dorothy Solinger is one of the most eminent social scientists who specializes in modern China. This admirable study of China’s inadequate welfare system for the urban poor, based on in-depth documentary research and insightful interviews, reveals the callous underside of the Chinese leadership’s social policies. It is one of Solinger’s best books.
Solinger’s study of China’s forgotten and invisible urban residents—often living in desperate conditions at odds with the dominant narrative of China’s miracle of economic growth and development—is the culmination of two decades of research. It is a work of meticulous detail, drawing on multiple methods and sources of information presented alongside a commanding knowledge of the literature that explains the emergence of China’s social assistance in the economic and political context of the last thirty years. What marks this as a standout study of China’s management of the urban poor and the development of the social assistance system is Solinger’s empathy for those in poverty, who receive only what help the state deems adequate. They are not forgotten or ignored; rather, they are central to the analysis, and it is all the stronger for it.
Based on her decades of pathbreaking and passionate research, Solinger offers a masterful analysis of the urban indigents in China. Their stories are told with gravity and insights into the evolving policy regimes and political economy.
Poverty and Pacification: The Chinese State Abandons the Old Working Class provides an incredibly thorough treatment of China's Minimum Livelihood Guarantee scheme, from the program's origins, to its administration, to its evolution. Most importantly, however, this book humanizes the experience of Dibao recipients by providing a space where the voices of China's urban poor are heard. Poverty and Pacification is essential reading not only for those who want to understand urban poverty in China but also for anyone interested in Chinese politics and society.
Dorothy Solinger has produced a remarkable sequel to her classic account of China’s rural migrant workers (Contesting Citizenship in Urban China, 1999). In Poverty and Pacification, Solinger shifts her attention to the tens of millions of veteran urban workers who have lost their jobs as China’s factories have been privatized, restructured, and closed. Based on more than two decades of research in nine Chinese cities, she provides a disturbing portrayal of how industrial restructuring has dismantled the lives of men and women who had once been promised lifetime employment. While her earlier book documented the severe difficulties encountered by rural migrants, it also reflected their hopes of upward mobility; her new book, in contrast, treats the downward trajectory of once proud workers who have been cast aside.
This excellent book is necessary reading for scholars of urban inequality, social mobility and stratification, and public policy – not only those working onChina but anyone concerned with rising urban inequality across transitional contexts.
9/9/21, Choice: This book was included in a feature highlighting forthcoming Asian and Asian American Studies titles.
Poverty and Pacification: A Conversation with Dorothy J. Solinger 9/12/2022