Chapter 5: Shaping social policy in the reform era in China
China’s social policy has been undergoing significant changes since the introduction of market-oriented economic reform and the transition from a planned economy in the late 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, as economic growth became the paramount policy goal of the government, the state-monopolized socialist welfare system of the Mao period was dismantled in order to boost economic growth. As a result, the old social policy regime based on collectivism and social equity gave way to a ‘productive’ social policy regime, in which social policy was used as a tool to facilitate the state sector reform and promote economic growth. Under the new social policy regime, the state streamlined the public sector, retrenched public expenditure, reduced its role in welfare provision and encouraged the marketization of social services (Guan, 2000; Wong and Flynn, 2001; Wong, 2004). Although China achieved remarkable economic growth in the 1980sand 1990s, the marketization of social policy led to a significant imbalance between economic growth and social development. The retreat of government funding from the fields such as education, health and housing represents a major challenge to the realization of basic needs for the poorest households. Low-income citizens, mainly unemployed urban people, rural–urban migrant workers, and peasants, could not afford education, health care and housing. Patients without money were rejected by the hospitals; and students with economic hardship were not allowed into schools and universities.
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