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Reassessing the Hu–Wen Era: A Golden Age or Lost Decade for Social Policy in China?

  • Jude Howell (a1) and Jane Duckett (a2)
Abstract

The Hu–Wen era has been characterized as a “lost decade” for economic and political reform, but a “golden era” in terms of economic growth and political stability. Yet, relatively little attention has been paid to the social policies introduced during Hu and Wen's decade in power. These important policies, however, abolished agricultural taxes, extended health insurance, pensions and income support to almost all rural as well as urban residents, and built a civic welfare infrastructure to address migrants’ grievances. These policies, some of which were developed under the preceding Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji leadership, were introduced for a complex mix of reasons. Their aim was not only to reduce inequalities but also to stimulate domestic consumption and sustain economic growth, offset the effects of China's entry to the WTO and the global recession of 2008, and maintain social stability. They were the product of domestic bureaucratic politics and experimentation. They were also strongly influenced by China's integration into the international economy, as well as by international governmental and non-governmental organizations and the ideas they introduced into China's domestic policy networks. Although Hu–Wen era social policy reforms had only limited effects on reducing income inequality and involved complex politics, they did establish for the first time entitlements to social security and safety nets for all China's population.

胡温执政时期, 就经济和政治改革而言, 被认为是 “失去的十年” 就经济增长和政治稳定而言,则被看作一个 “黄金时期” 。而对于胡温执政时期所实施的社会政策, 关注相对较少。这些重要的社会政策废除了农业税, 把医保、养老保险和低保扩大到全体城乡居民, 并且开始逐步把农民工纳入到市民社会保障制度中。这些社会政策的出台和实施 (其中某些是在江泽民和朱镕基时代发起的), 是出于复杂的综合性原因。其目的不仅仅是为了缩小不平等, 也是为了刺激国内需求和维持经济增长, 抵消中国加入 WTO 和 2008 年以来的全球经济衰退,以及保持社会稳定。这些政策是国内官僚政治和政策试验的产物。同时, 这些政策制定还受到以下三个方面因素的强烈影响: 中国融入世界经济的影响, 国际政府和非政府组织的影响, 以及由国际组织引入中国国内政策网络的价值理念的影响。尽管胡温时期的社会政策改革对于缓解收入不平等效果有限, 并且牵涉复杂的政治因素, 但是这些政策首次确立了全体中国人享有社会保障和福利的权利。

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Corresponding author
Email: j.a.howell@lse.ac.uk (corresponding author).
Footnotes
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In Memory of Mayling Birney

This special section started out with five papers, but sadly due to the sudden passing away of Dr Mayling Birney in the autumn of 2017, it currently stands at only four. Dr Birney was a dedicated and enthusiastic scholar who made a valued, lively and engaged contribution to the discussions behind this special section. She had a strong methodological interest in the use of survey data to explore politics in China. In this way she filled an important gap in the approach to the study of politics in China which could have greatly enriched the special section. Her passing away is a loss not only to this section but also to the broader political science community.

Jane Duckett and Jude Howell

Footnotes
References
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