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Withering away of the iron rice bowl? The reemployment project of post-socialist China

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Abstract

This paper explores the transformation of labor relations in China through an examination of the policy ofxiagang and the reemployment project. The old style of labor relations, featuring permanent employment within work-units, is being dismantled, as shown by recent mass lay-offs. Meanwhile, the socialist party-state is reinventing its old propaganda technique of “thought work” in the new task of shaping individuals, but it now does so without taking responsibility for their welfare, thereby creating a paradox of post-socialist labor transformation in China.This paper discusses four major elements used to transform the mindset of the old socialist discusses four major elements used to transform the mindset of the old socialist workers: (1) job guidance at reemployment centers, (2) the reemployment market, (3) the withering away of the reemployment centers, and (4) the mystification of the “stars of reemployment.” My finding is that the present Chinese unemployment policy is a hybrid of socialist and new-market rationalities; an ethic of self-reliance is drawn from the market economy, but the ethical work (thought work) is taken from socialism.

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Additional information

Jaeyoun Won holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught at UC Berkeley and at Yonsei University in South Korea. He is currently a post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia. His research focuses on labor and political economy in East Asia, particularly post-socialist transformation in China and North Korea.

For their meticulous and thoughtful comments, I am deeply grateful to Gil Eyal, Mary Gallagher, Tom Gold, Amy Hanser, Bill Hayes, Russell Jeung, Ching Kwan Lee, and Mark Selden. Their comments were extremely helpful in clarifying my ideas, elaborating arguments, and most of all, improving the structure and organization of this paper. My appreciation also goes to the reviewers and editors atSCID, as well as to Jenny Chun, Mark Frazier, and Young Eun Lee.

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Won, J. Withering away of the iron rice bowl? The reemployment project of post-socialist China. St Comp Int Dev 39, 71–93 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02686278

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