Radical Inequalities: China’s Welfare State in Comparative Perspective

The Chinese communist welfare state was established with the goal of eradicating income inequality. Paradoxically, it widened the income gap between workers and peasants in the Mao era.  To explain this ironic outcome, this talk places the Chinese case in the context of the globalization of welfare policies in the 20th century.  The mismatch between welfare policies originally designed for European societies and China’s economic and political conditions in the 1940s and 1950s doomed China’s many welfare reforms to failure.  When Chinese leaders gave up on welfare reform in the 1960s, this limited and unequal welfare state was consolidated and institutionalized, structuring welfare politics for the rest of the 20th century. China’s extensive welfare reforms over the last 20 years have rectified some of the legacies of the Mao era, but inequality is still entrenched in China’s welfare state today. Since many developing countries face similar constraints when they tried to create welfare states, the Chinese case offers insight into their limitations as well.

Speaker: Nara Dillon (Harvard University)

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