Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Yingjie Guo
Chapter 3: Class and inequality in the post-Mao era
The economic reforms that commenced in 1978 gave rise to dramatic changes in China’s social system of hierarchy and stratification. In the ensuing 30 years or so, rising income inequality further widened the gap in the social and economic status of different social groups. New classes (such as the new rich and the middle classes) gradually took shape, while the old classes (such as the workers and peasants) have been transformed to a large extent. The systems and patterns of social stratification and social mobility have gone through more fundamental changes in comparison with the pre-reform era, and it is these changes that have led to the emergence of a new system of social stratification and class structure in China. Such a dramatic transformation has expectedly caught the attention of researchers and scholars, and it is little wonder the transformation is one of the hot topics not only in Chinese academia but also among government policy-makers and the general public. Of particular interest in the theoretical debate have been the rapid social differentiation of groups and the widening income gap resulting from China’s economic reforms. These debates are influencing the direction of not just future economic reforms but also the CCP’s ideological reforms.
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