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From Labour to Capital: Intra-Village Inequality in Rural China, 1988–2006*

  • Zhou Yingying, Han Hua and Stevan Harrell

Economic inequality has increased greatly in China since the end of state socialist industry and collective agriculture, but the story of inequality is much more complex than just the rural–urban and coastal–inland dichotomies or the relative contributions of inter-regional and intra-regional inequality. Even within inland rural areas, inequality between villages and within villages has also increased greatly. In 2005–06, we were fortunate to be able to work with the Sichuan Nationalities Research Institute to re-survey 90 per cent of 300 families in three villages that we had originally surveyed in 1988. On the basis of these surveys and of ethnographic information, we found that income inequality had increased quite dramatically in all three villages. In structural terms, the primary reason for this increase was the shift from labour power to small-scale capital as the primary source of family income, a shift that occurred differently in each village.

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* Division of labour for this article was as follows. Han Hua directed the field research and did most of it; Zhou Yingying also participated extensively. Stevan Harrell made two brief visits. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the Sichuan Nationalities Research Institute; special thanks to Institute director Yuan Xiaowen, and to Li Jin, Geng Jing and Luo Liangzhao, who participated actively in the field research. Zhou Yingying did almost all the data analysis. Stevan Harrell did most of the writing, with contributions from Han Hua and Zhou Yingying. Thanks also to Bill Lavely for comments on earlier drafts. Fieldwork was supported by a grant from the Cultural Anthropology Division, National Science Foundation.

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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