Social problems in China

The rapid transformation from a communist, planned economy to a capitalist, market economy has resulted in new problems for Chinese society.


Unemployed people looking at job advertisements in the city of Shenzhen, China
Unemployed people looking at job advertisements in the city of Shenzhen, China

In Mao's communist China, every adult, as far as possible, was expected to work. In return for work, Mao guaranteed every person a share of what was produced. This 'contract' between state and people was known as the 'iron rice bowl'.

Today the 'iron-rice bowl' has been smashed and the guarantee of work has gone. In a competitive economy, those without skills or working in unprofitable industries, have found themselves out of work.

Unemployment is a major problem in China. As many as 10 per cent of people may be without work. The authorities claim the figure is only around 4 per cent (millions of migrant workers are not counted in the official total). The world recession hit China hard and there are fears its economy is beginning to slow.

Government response

A homeless man in Shanghai, China
A homeless man in Shanghai, China

In Deng’s time as leader, getting rich was seen as glorious. Economic development was the priority and there was little concern for the resulting social or economic inequality.

Under the previous leader, President Hu, the priority was to promote economic, environmental and social development in order to build a harmonious society.

The CPC leadership were acutely aware that if too many people are excluded from the general increase in wealth in society this could result in serious social discontent. For example, in the last few years the number of popular protests (70,000+) has been increasing.

Under current President Xi Jinping the Chinese have been challenged to dare to dream or to individually improve themselves and to improve China in a sustainable way.