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From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization

Markets, Workers, and the State in a Changing China

Sarosh Kuruvilla, Ching Kwan Lee, Mary Gallagher

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi

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Chapter 1. Introduction and Argument

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pp. 1-14

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. ...

Part I. Informalization and the State

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Chapter 2. The Informalization of the Chinese Labor Market

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pp. 17-35

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, ...

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Chapter 3. Legislating Harmony: Labor Law Reform in Contemporary China

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pp. 36-60

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 ...

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Chapter 4. Social Policy and Public Opinion in an Age of Insecurity

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pp. 61-80

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, ...

Part II. Transformation of Employment Relations in Industries

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Chapter 5. Enterprise Reform and Wage Movements in Chinese Oil Fields and Refineries

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pp. 83-106

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. ...

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Chapter 6. The Paradox of Labor Force Dualism and State-Labor-Capital Relations in the Chinese Automobile Industry

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pp. 107-137

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. ...

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Chapter 7. Permanent Temporariness in the Chinese Construction Industry

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pp. 138-154

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, ...

Part III. Unions, Nongovernmental Organizations, and Workers

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Chapter 8. “Where There Are Workers, There Should Be Trade Unions”: Union Organizing in the Era of Growing Informal Employment

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pp. 157-172

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. ...

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Chapter 9. The Anti-Solidarity Machine?: Labor Nongovernmental Organizations in China

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pp. 173-187

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), ...

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Chapter 10. Conclusion

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pp. 188-192

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). ...


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pp. 193-204


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pp. 205-222

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 223-226


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pp. 227-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780801462931
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450242

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1