Goals, Issues and Trajectories in China, India, Brazil and South Africa
Edited by James Midgley and David Piachaud
Chapter 3: The transition of social protection in China
China’s long-documented history shows that, traditionally, the family was revered as the core unit of society and the primary provider of social care (Wong, 1998). The family kinship system functioned as the most important safety net (Chen, 2012). The influence of government was mediated through kin and local groups. Under Confucian paternalism, the imperial government and the elite were responsible for the provision of public welfare. The most vulnerable, particularly those without familial support, were eligible for government aid. Although the government played an important role in famine relief and natural disaster relief, the role of government in people’s well-being was supplementary, and public welfare provisions were minimal and temporary. In the era of the Republic of China, prior to 1949, due to a lack of state authority and a poor economy, China failed to establish a solid social protection system. Although some social legislation was enacted during this period, there was neither sufficient authority nor resources to enforce it, with only small-scale experiments on workers’ welfare funds and social insurance attempted. In contrast to this weak state provision, charitable bodies, especially missionaries, played a notable role in social protection, filling the vacuum created by family structures weakened by war and widespread destitution (Wong, 1998). On the whole, the pre-revolutionary social protection system in China was characterized by a residual model of welfare with Chinese idiosyncrasies, which coexisted with an economy of scarcity and subsistence agriculture (Wong, 1998).
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