China’s new urban poverty

Solinger, Dorothy J. China’s new urban poverty. China Policy Institute Blog, 17 April 2015. En ligne: (Consulté le 17 avril 2015)

Beginning in the second half of the 1990s, poverty emerged in Chinese cities as a novelty under the rule of the Communist Party. Prior to that time, pockets of penury were concentrated either in rural areas, where some 200 millions were still said to be in dire straits at the start of the reform era in the late 1970s, or else in particular regions of the country, especially in the provinces of the northwest and the southwest. Indeed, in the closing years of the last century scholars researching the issue of the indigent for the most part focused their investigations primarily either on the growing gaps between the more well-to-do municipalities and the progressively poorer countryside, or else on the steadily enlarging disparities between the eastern seacoast and the inland and far west areas. Only in recent years have Chinese researchers and Western scholars begun to concern themselves with the novel phenomenon of large numbers of poverty-stricken people living within China’s large cities.

This newfound direction in research on the urban poor is in part a function of growing interest in the huge alterations that have taken place in China’s social structure as a result of the change in the economic mechanism. It is also a result of reflections upon the desperate need of the Chinese polity to undergird the livelihood of the lately laid-off and unemployed masses in the cities by constructing a still incomplete social welfare system to replace the defunct work units of the pre-reform era.

The cities, for the most part, appeared up until the middle of the 1990s to be islands in which job-secured workers could be certain that their livelihood, health, and living abodes would evermore undergird their sustenance. Certainly at least until the late 1980s, urbanites who stuck with the state-sector considered good treatment on the job a kind of birthright, an entitlement that was sure to be enforced. In the cities, true, there had always been the disadvantaged after 1949–those without offspring or spouses, the disabled, and people unable to support themselves. But such individuals generally survived in the shadows and out of sight, subsisting but just barely, as members of the “three withouts” on a mere pittance in the form of meagre “social relief” from civil affairs departments.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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