Asserting the “public” in welfare provision: a study of resident evaluation and expectation of social services in Guangzhou, China
Policy context and research questions American policy expert Glazer (1986) divided social welfare into two types. The fi rst is to provide welfare services for all people on the grounds of absolute and universal rights. The second is to offer selective, remedial welfare services where they are most needed, this usually being identifi ed by household survey. To many scholars studying Chinese social welfare (e.g. Leung and Nann, 1996; Wang, 2009; Wong, 2001), China’s welfare system belongs to the second type, “remedial social welfare”, with a much narrower conception of welfare as compared to the fi rst type. “Remedial social welfare” did not fare too badly in the planned economy era, when the state monopolised all important social resources including wealth and goods, and signifi cantly determined urban people’s living conditions and their career development. In such a highly organised, integrated, centralised and unitary social structure, every urban worker’s basic living security and social welfare was
taken care of by his or her work unit ( danwei ). This is what we call the “work unit system” (Lu, 1989) and also what Walder (1986) refers as “organised dependence” in China. Under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong during the earlier years after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, the state implemented the “life-long employment system” in urban areas and established town workers’ employment security. In 1951 China issued “Labour insurance regulations”, requiring that the units should provide comprehensive welfare for their workers. Therefore, In Mao’s period, China’s social welfare was based on the “life-long employment system”, and supported by the units. Due to the differences between different units, this system divided and segmented China’s social welfare system. Nevertheless, it effectively shared the responsibility of social welfare provision with the state. While the social security of the majority of urban people was taken care of by their units, the state only attended to those being left out of the unit system and those who were not suffi ciently supported by the units (the number of the former was relatively small; the latter’s living diffi culties were mainly infl icted by natural disasters and poverty). The state could therefore focus on the macro regulation of unit operations and their personnel arrangements. It is against such a context that the welfare services offered by the state were remedial and narrow in nature (Leung and Nann, 1996: 182-183). At that time, the cooperation of the state and unit system in offering welfare services successfully maintained social stability, resolved many social problems such as infl ation, unemployment, crime, etc., and secured people’s living standards. All of these welfare arrangements were regarded as the embodiment of the socialist system’s superiority (Leung and Nann, 1996: 182-183).