Handbook on East Asian Social Policy
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Handbook on East Asian Social Policy

Edited by Misa Izuhara

Dramatic socio-economic transformations over the last two decades have brought social policy and social welfare issues to prominence in many East Asian societies. Since the 1990s and in response to national as well as global pressure, there have been substantial developments and reforms in social policy in the region but the development paths have been uneven. Until recently, comparative analysis of East Asian social policy tends to have focused on the established welfare state of Japan and the emerging welfare regimes of four ‘Tiger Economies’. Much of the recent debate indeed preceded China’s re-emergence onto the world economy. In this context, this Handbook brings China more fully into the contemporary social policy debates in East Asia. Organised around five themes from welfare state developments, to theories and methodologies, to current social policy issues, the Handbook presents original research from leading specialists in the fields, and provides a fresh and updated perspective to the study of social policy.
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Chapter 7: Exploring social and generational equity in the context of China’s socio-economic and demographic transition

Maggie Lau


The Chinese economy was dominated by state-owned enterprises before market liberalization in the late 1970s. In addition to government-guaranteed lifetime employment, people enjoyed ‘low benchmarks, broad coverage’ of public provision of welfare in cities. China’s economic reforms emphasizing economic growth, efficiency and competitiveness dismantled the ‘iron rice bowl’ policy (Ngok, 2009). The ‘societalization of welfare’ policy reform aimed to transfer social services and welfare to government agencies, communities and/or market providers (Guan, 2000). The policy shift promoted private saving rather than state saving provision, in which more emphasis was put on the role of social insurance (Dignam and Galanis, 2009). Nonetheless, dramatic economic restructuring and social transformation (particularly an evolution of the hukou system) have significantly challenged a movement to a welfare pluralist approach in China over the past three decades. New social risks have engendered a growing demand for public services, while there are only limited resources meeting the growing needs. It is widely recognized that global processes of economic change have significantly shaped national economic and social policies. Economic competitiveness gives national government impetus to adopt a welfare pluralist approach and thus further exacerbates unequal access to public services. These policy reforms may further widen the gaps between the haves and the have-nots and contribute to social division.

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