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From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization

From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization: Markets, Workers, and the State in a Changing China

Sarosh Kuruvilla
Ching Kwan Lee
Mary E. Gallagher
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization
    Book Description:

    In the thirty years since the opening of China's economy, China's economic growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. At the same time, however, its employment relations system has undergone a gradual but fundamental transformation from stable and permanent employment with good benefits (often called the iron rice bowl), to a system characterized by highly precarious employment with no benefits for about 40 percent of the population. Similar transitions have occurred in other countries, such as Korea, although perhaps not at such a rapid pace as in China. This shift echoes the move from "breadwinning" careers to contingent employment in the postindustrial United States.

    In From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization, an interdisciplinary group of authors examines the nature, causes, and consequences of informal employment in China at a time of major changes in Chinese society. This book provides a guide to the evolving dynamics among workers, unions, NGOs, employers, and the state as they deal with the new landscape of insecure employment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6293-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Chapter 1 Introduction and Argument
    (pp. 1-14)
    Mary E. Gallagher, Ching Kwan Lee and Sarosh Kuruvilla

    Thirty years of economic reform in China have produced economic growth unparalleled in terms of its speed, longevity, and geographical spread (Brandt and Rawski 2008); has lifted millions out of poverty; and has increased GDP per capita from $224 in 1978 to $3,180 in 2008. It has also transformed China from one of the most egalitarian societies in the world to one of the most unequal societies in Asia (Lee and Selden 2008). The accumulated result of economic liberalization has been a drastic shift in the structure of employment. The following stylized statistics sum up the extent of transformation. In...

  4. Part I. Informalization and the State

    • Chapter 2 The Informalization of the Chinese Labor Market
      (pp. 17-35)
      Albert Park and Fang Cai

      The Chinese urban labor market has experienced a substantial diversification of ownership types. The most striking change was the rapid decline of the state and collective sectors. According to official employment statistics published in the China Statistical Yearbooks, employment in the state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector, which had actually grown in absolute number from 1990 to 1994, fell at a mean annual rate of 6.4 percent from 1995 to 2000, a total loss of 31.5 million jobs or 15 percent of the urban labor force. The collective sector, which had begun declining earlier, had already shed over 10 percent of the...

    • Chapter 3 Legislating Harmony: Labor Law Reform in Contemporary China
      (pp. 36-60)
      Mary E. Gallagher and Baohua Dong

      In March 2006, the NPC opened a thirty-day period of public comment on the then-draft Labor Contract Law (passed in June 29, 2007). The increasingly frequent process of public comment on draft laws is touted as part of the NPC “mass line” in legislation, part of its new commitment to public participation and social voice in the legislative drafting process (“Mass Line for Legislation” 2006). In recent years, at least a dozen laws have had a period of public comment during drafting. In the thirty-day period of public comment, the NPC received over 191,000 comments regarding the draft Labor Contract...

    • Chapter 4 Social Policy and Public Opinion in an Age of Insecurity
      (pp. 61-80)
      Mark W. Frazier

      Scholars have commonly turned to Karl Polanyi’s double movement paradigm to interpret the development of welfare policy in China (Wang 2008; Lee 2007; Polanyi 1957). In this view, the introduction of market forces into labor relations in the 1990s led to social dislocation and impoverishment for large portions of the labor force, to protests fueled by demands for subsistence wages and job security, and to increased employment insecurity for a growing proportion of the urban population. These problems then led to policy responses on the part of the Chinese government that provided some measure of protection against the operation of...

  5. Part II. Transformation of Employment Relations in Industries

    • Chapter 5 Enterprise Reform and Wage Movements in Chinese Oil Fields and Refineries
      (pp. 83-106)
      Kun-Chin Lin

      As Mary Gallagher, Ching Kwan Lee, and Sarosh Kuruvilla (chap. 1 in this volume) point out, there has been a qualitative transformation in labor relations in China since the mid-1990s. The state has led a process of deconstructing socialist labor relations to facilitate the commodification of state-owned productive assets and human resources. The structure and ownership of firms were redrawn with corporatization, privatization, and market liberalization while workers were forced to reckon with the end of their iron rice bowl tenure.

      This chapter examines the impact of state-led organizational restructuring in the state-owned oil and petrochemical industries that are so...

    • Chapter 6 The Paradox of Labor Force Dualism and State-Labor-Capital Relations in the Chinese Automobile Industry
      (pp. 107-137)
      Lu Zhang

      The rapid rise of China to become the largest automobile-producing nation and market in the world made newspaper headlines at the end of 2009. Despite the extensive interests in the booming Chinese automobile industry, little attention has been paid to the 2.9 million Chinese autoworkers who are making those headlines. These workers are the focus of this chapter. Most existing research on the changing labor relations in reform China focuses either on labor-intensive manufacturing in the sunbelt in southern China or on declining state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the rustbelt northeastern China. This in-depth case study of the automobile industry contributes...

    • Chapter 7 Permanent Temporariness in the Chinese Construction Industry
      (pp. 138-154)
      Sarah Swider

      One well-documented consequence of Chinese economic growth has been the dramatic increase in the number of migrant workers who have moved from rural areas to the urban ones in search of jobs. The 2000 census estimated the total migrant population at roughly 144 million people, representing 12 percent of the total national population and 25 percent of the total working population (Liang and Ma 2004). The National Bureau of Statistics estimated the number of migrant workers would be 225 million by the end of 2008. Most migrant workers, if not all, work informally and make up the largest proportion of...

  6. Part III: Unions, Nongovernmental Organizations, and Workers

    • Chapter 8 “Where There Are Workers, There Should Be Trade Unions”: Union Organizing in the Era of Growing Informal Employment
      (pp. 157-172)
      Mingwei Liu

      The growing informalization of the Chinese labor market (Mary Gallagher, Ching Kwan Lee, and Sarosh Kuruvilla, chap. 1 in this volume) has not only deeply affected workers but also seriously challenged the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the single official workers’ organization in China. The extreme difficulty of organizing informal workers had resulted in a significant decline in union density in the 1990s. According to Mingwei Liu (2009), Chinese union density declined from 39.60 percent in 1990 to 26.27 percent in 1999; and in the privately owned enterprises (POEs) and township and village enterprises (TVEs), where there were a...

    • Chapter 9 The Anti-Solidarity Machine?: Labor Nongovernmental Organizations in China
      (pp. 173-187)
      Ching Kwan Lee and Yuan Shen

      The increase in insecurity and informalization of the Chinese workforce described in this volume has not happened without opposition from workers acting independently (see the May 2010 wildcat strikes in Honda plants), unions (as Mingwei Liu, chap. 8 in this volume, demonstrates), and other civil society agents such as labor friendly organizations. Labor-related nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in China are growing in number and visibility, despite formidable challenges to their existence. In this chapter, we provide a preliminary analysis of their organizational cultures and practices. Although these organizations all claim to pursue and protect workers’ rights, in actual practice many have...

    • Chapter 10 Conclusion
      (pp. 188-192)
      Mary E. Gallagher, Sarosh Kuruvilla and Ching Kwan Lee

      This volume elucidates the evolving tensions among three forces: the market (exemplified by the strategies of state-owned enterprises and private employers), the state (the central government and the party as well as local governments), and the Chinese working class (including workers, labor unions, and civil society). The future of informalization in China depends on the continuing interplay among these forces. And, from the evidence presented here, we do not see prospects for a significant reduction in informalization in the near term, despite the aggressive efforts of the central Chinese state to curb the practice through the introduction of new labor...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 193-204)
  8. References
    (pp. 205-222)
  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 223-226)
  10. Index
    (pp. 227-234)