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The Transformation of the Chinese Class Structure, 1978-2005

Publication Abstract

Lin, Thung-hong, and Xiaogang Wu. 2009. "The Transformation of the Chinese Class Structure, 1978-2005." Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, 5: 81-116.

This article investigates the transformation of the Chinese class structure and class inequality since economic reforms. Drawing from neo-Marxian class theory, we develop a Chinese class schema based on the unique socialist institutions, such as the household registration system (hukou), the work unit (danwei), and the cadre-worker distinction, which are associated with the ownership of different types of productive assets. Using data from several national representative surveys from 1988 to 2005, we show the expansion of new capitalist classes and the declines in the numbers of both peasants and state workers, and we find that the class structure has shifted to a trajectory of proletarianization since 1992. Class is now the main source of income inequality and it became particularly important in 2005 compared with 1988. Both capitalists and cadres are the main winners of the economic transitions, whereas peasants, workers in the private sector, and even the self-employed are the losers.

Country of focus: China.

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