This article discusses whether Mainland China under the Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao leadership (2003–13) has developed a new welfare settlement, the emphasis of which is to shift away from a ‘productivist’ focus on education and healthcare investment towards a more ‘protective’ approach, characterized by investing into social protection and establishing a minimum living guarantee for both the urban and rural poor. In so doing, this article reviews the conceptual debate on Chinese social policy development and explores whether there is any evidence to substantiate a gradual decrease of fragmentation in social provision among the Chinese provinces. With regard to the former question, the article finds that the various social policy initiatives have yet to amount to a qualitative shift in the core foundation of the human capital-focused welfare production logic in China. With regard to the latter question, we argue that considerable fragmentation of social provision at the Chinese provincial level continues to hamper attempts to define a coherent Chinese social model. Indeed, we find considerable diversity in terms of the co-operative state-local interactions within China leading to varying trajectories of social decentralization. Unlike much of the current research in comparative social policy analysis, which continues to treat Mainland China as a single case, this article provides a strong account of a productivist construction of selective welfare pragmatism, which reproduces social policy gaps for different groups of the Chinese population, and suggests that determining multiple ‘welfare types’ within China might be the most fruitful path for future academic inquiry.
- Chinese welfare transition
- Chinese social model
- Chinese social policy fragmentation
- Welfare productivism
- Welfare modelling business