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Welfare, Wealth and Poverty in Urban China: The Dibao and Its Differential Disbursement*

  • Dorothy J. Solinger (a1) and Yiyang Hu (a2)

In the broader social science literature, most studies of social protection investigate welfare in democracies, and at the national level, and typically assume that welfare is given in order to influence voting. This paper, to the contrary, considers social assistance in authoritarian China at the urban level. Its findings are compatible with an explanation that there are two dissimilar logics influencing the distributional decisions of lower-level administrators. That is, there appear to be two modes of social policy implementation, which vary with the fiscal capacity of a given city, as indicated by its average wage: Wealthier cities seem to prefer to push off the streets those viewed as unsuited to a modern city, therefore allocating a substantial proportion of their social assistance funds to them, in order to entice them to stay at home. On the other hand, poorer places seem to permit such people to work outside, in the hope that they will thus be better able to support themselves, thereby saving the city money. A data set from China's Ministry of Civil Affairs was used.

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The authors thank John K. Kennedy, Kam Wing Chan, Qin Gao, Russell Dalton, Yumin Sheng, Thomas P. Bernstein, and Barry Naughton for many sorts of assistance. We also benefited greatly from very helpful comments from three anonymous readers, and have responded to them as much as we could.

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