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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Emerging New Social Policy Paradigm in China: Reframing State-Society Relations


Social management has arisen as an essential political agenda during the Hu-Wen era, and received particular attention in the 12th Five-Year Plan launched in 2011. At its core lies the idea of public administration by involving a variety of societal sectors and organizations in various policy realms while maintaining the legitimate rule of the Communist Party. In the realm of social protection this managerialist approach is particularly pronounced. The state-led pluralization of welfare provision during the 2000s envisions a new governance mode toward a public-private mix, with the state establishing a regulatory framework that allows economic and social actors to provide social service. This new policy approach differs significantly from the ‘socialization’ approach taken during the 1990s that merely shifted social welfare responsibilities from the state to markets and families. Based on an analysis of recent developments in social security and social service for migrant workers, this article discusses the characteristics of the new welfare mix promoted by the idea of social management, and analyzes the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the new policy framework. While the state recognizes the importance of societal sectors in welfare provision, its (still) predominant role as a provider and a regulator has inevitably crowded out the space it initially intended to leave for non-state agencies. Moreover, the strong technocratic nature of social management focuses primarily on the political goal of crafting social order and maintaining social stability, and thereby is prone to neglect the real need of participating social actors and welfare beneficiaries. The collaboration of public-private welfare provision by social management may end up merely co-opting social actors into taking responsibility for meeting welfare targets over which they have scant influence, while providing little support for them to thrive and prosper that could really foster public-private collaboration in social security.

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