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  • Radical Inequalities: China’s Revolutionary Welfare State in Comparative Perspective by Nara Dillon
  • Morris L. Bian
Radical Inequalities: China’s Revolutionary Welfare State in Comparative Perspective by Nara Dillon. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015. Pp. xii + 332. $49.95.

This study seeks to answer the question of how the Chinese welfare state became “a force for increasing inequality in Chinese society” and why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ended up “betraying one of its most deeply held commitments” to egalitarianism (pp. 1–2). To put it differently, Dillon aims to “unravel the paradox of the Maoist welfare state: how and why a radical communist regime created a deeply unequal welfare state” (p. 7) or a “narrow welfare state” (p. 268).

Dillon tries to answer these questions by dividing the book into two parts. In part 1, Dillon explores the politics of founding China’s welfare state. She traces the diffusion of European welfare policies and programs in China since World War I, describes the Guomindang (GMD, which Dillon renders as “Nationalist”) government’s adoption and implementation of employee welfare and unemployment relief programs during the 1940s, and analyzes the Communist government’s formulation of welfare policies and programs during the late 1940s and early 1950s. In part 2, she focuses on the politics of expanding China’s welfare state, examining changes in the making of welfare policies and the implementation of welfare programs from 1952 to 1962. Dillon concludes that “China’s three major welfare reform initiatives in the 1950s failed to attain the goal of broad coverage” (p. 268).

Dillon adopts an approach that is both chronological and thematic. Although each chapter follows a clear chronology, she consistently utilizes several analytical categories throughout the text. These categories include international influence, program design, level of economic development, preferential incorporation, top-down pressure, and bottom-up pressure.

Dillon begins by tracing the diffusion of European welfare policies and programs after their adoption in Germany and Denmark. The International Labour Organization, founded in 1919, played an especially important role in the diffusion of European welfare policies and programs in China. By the 1920s and 1930s, university professors, political activists, and government officials actively debated these policies [End Page 543] and programs and their application in China. These debates typically focused on social insurance and pointed to industrial workers as the first target for protection. Against this background, the GMD proposed social insurance during its first national conference in 1924. The nascent CCP agreed with the GMD on the necessity of establishing social insurance. Despite their split in 1927, both the GMD and the CCP continued to advocate the establishment of social insurance programs during subsequent decades. For instance, the GMD considered social insurance legislation during the 1930s.

The GMD took a major step toward establishing a comprehensive social program when, in 1943, the GMD government adopted the Worker Welfare and Unemployment Relief programs, which Dillon calls “China’s first national welfare programs for workers” (p. 78). One of these programs, Regulations Governing Employee Welfare Funds (which included detailed regulations on implementation), stipulated the creation of welfare funds at all public and private enterprises for the management of employee welfare programs. These welfare funds would be drawn from a small percentage of an enterprise’s investment capital, monthly profits/revenue, monthly staff salaries, and worker wages. The funds would be kept and allocated by employee-welfare committees from within the enterprise consisting primarily of officially sanctioned labor-union representatives. Among other responsibilities, these employee-welfare committees were given the authority to create employee-welfare cooperatives for the management of dining halls, dormitories, kindergartens, and so on. Dillon attributes the adoption of the Regulations Governing Employee Welfare Funds, as well as other regulations, to the “combined forces of factional conflict” within the GMD regime and bottom-up demand (p. 79). For Dillon, “policy making was defined by mimicry, adopting foreign models and rival programs wholesale” (p. 90).

By contrast, “the CCP stayed on the sidelines” during and after the war with Japan, leaving welfare politics to the GMD regime (p. 118). But, just as the GMD “suddenly reversed course” in 1943 (p. 78), the CCP “suddenly reversed course in 1948...


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pp. 543-549
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