Beyond the iron rice bowl : Chinese occupational welfare in market transition
China had since the fifties developed a system of occupational welfare which provided 'from cradle to grave' benefits and services to urban state-sector employees, who depended on their work units, or danwei, for health insurance, retirement pensions, housing, various kinds of subsidies both in cash and in kind, various collective facilities and services such as nurseries, dining halls, clinics, bathing facilities, and, in large units, even schools and hospitals. It was a very rare and extreme situation of 'near-complete' welfare dependence. This study explains the origins and the nature of this unique system of welfare and describes how it has undergone changes in market transition. Based on the case study of a large-scale state-owned enterprise, the study shows that in the course of market transition Chinese occupational welfare has undergone very radical changes. Empirical evidence and field data show that these changes have come about through three separate yet inter-related processes at the individual, the work unit, and the government level: the process reshaping dependence, the process reshaping the danwei welfare economy, and the process reforming Labour Insurance. The system emerging from these changes is no longer a unitary system worked entirely through the danwei bureaucracy and is no longer the exclusive rights and privileges of a particular group of workers. The new system has broken with the near-complete dependence of the past and it no longer exempts individuals from their shares of risks and responsibilities. Emerging from the change is a model of welfare pluralism with unique cultural and institutional characteristics.