British Academy Newton International Advanced Fellowship 2016-2019

A collaboration between Cardiff University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Project Title:

Improving Social Welfare System in China: Urbanization, Community Development and Social Participation

Research Project:

Situating on the unbalanced development of Chinese welfare system, this collaborative research project has three aims. First, we will give a detailed description of the current state of Chinese social welfare development through an empirical investigation, and identify the weakness of the system and policies. Second, drawing on a social policy analysis framework, we aim to investigate the reasons, mechanism, and institutional factors that hinder a universal coverage of a developed social welfare system. Finally, we will make concrete and operative policy recommendations on improvement of the welfare system in China.
Specifically, we focus on the role played by urban development and local administration in developing and reforming social welfare in China, including the following three aspects.

  1. Urbanization and industrialization. Since the reform in 1979, China has experienced huge economic growth, resulting in the rapid urbanization and industrialization. Along with the increased average income and improved living standard, however, the sky-rocketing development creates a high level of inequality, even in social welfare enjoyment. Due to hukou registration system, China has been divided in two societies: rural China and urban China. The welfare system is primarily established in urban China and aiming to cover the urban residents, leaving a relatively vacancy for the rural residents. In recent decades, the industrialization leads to a large population of rural-to-urban migrant workers in China, and the urbanization makes lots of farmers move into cities . However, the social welfare enjoyed by the people originated from rural areas still lags behind original urban residents. The dissatisfaction of such group threatens the social harmony and even leads to social conflicts, which has been largely reported in media. Therefore, we are interested in how to increase the provision, expand the coverage, and ultimately reduce the inequality of social welfare during urbanization and industrialization in China.
  2. Community development. In addition to personal welfare provided by government and work unit, facilities and service provided by community is an important part of social welfare system, and it is particularly helpful to the elderly, the poor, the disabled, children, and migrant workers. In addition, community welfare is largely influenced by both local administration. The community welfare development in China is relatively backward, especially after the transformation from planned economy to market economy. After lots directions to promote community development issued by central government of China in recent years, welfare provision by community in more developed regions like coastal areas has been largely increased. Nevertheless, community welfare in the western China is still quite limited. In addition, welfare development at community level is unequal within cities in China. Few facilities and services could be enjoyed by residents in squatter settlements in cities. Thus, through exploring the mechanism and determinants of community welfare provision, this project aims to examine current provisions and make policy recommendations to increase the people’s welfare.
  3. Social Participation. Although government is mainly responsible for promoting social welfare, the effect of self-empowerment and social participation on improving welfare of citizens should not be ignored. As shown in many western societies, people could largely benefit from the involvement of citizen’s social participation and social organization in providing non-profitable service and organizing activities. Through more social participation, the relationship among local governments, social organizations, and citizens will be changed, and even influence the local administration structure and social welfare policies. Thus, social participation might be effective in expanding the provision and improving the efficiency of social welfare.

There are multiple methods that we will use in this research project. To account for and compare social welfare development in China and other societies, documentary method will be used to provide a comprehensive literature review. Drawing on our extensive experience in studying social policy, we will conduct field work in local communities, government agencies, using observations and interviews to collect further empirical data. Building on these materials, we will conduct a systematic social policy analysis to identify the factors and mechanisms affecting social welfare development in China. In this phase, we will employ quantitative method to analyze national survey data from various sources, for instance, China Social Survey conducted by Institute of Sociology at CASS. Above all, we aim to build on our research in social welfare development in China and capitalize on the expertise from the UK team at Cardiff University throughout the whole project.