Spring 2014

State Schemes or Safety Nets? China’s Push for Universal Coverage

Mark W. Frazier

After rapid changes in social policy and increases in social expenditures over the past five years, many of the uniformly negative assessments of China's record on health care, retirement pensions, and other forms of social security have to be reconsidered. This article examines the rapid expansion in social policy coverage and spending, and considers the possible significance of these changes for Chinese politics. The administrative and territorial categories that have defined access to social welfare provision over the history of the People's Republic of China have not yet receded, but their significance has diminished with programs that create uniform eligibility across rural and urban categories of citizenship. Large gaps in benefits remain, and are likely to generate political demands in the future as urbanization continues to erode the administrative distinctions between urban and rural.

MARK W. FRAZIER is Professor of Politics and Co-Academic Director of the India China Institute at The New School. His publications include Socialist Insecurity: Pensions and the Politics of Uneven Development in China (2010) and The Making of the Chinese Industrial Workplace: State, Revolution, and Labor Management (2002), as well as articles in Asia Policy, The China Journal, and Studies in Comparative International Development. He has contributed essay and op-ed pieces to The New York Times, The Diplomat, and World Politics Review.

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