Is China Egalitarian?

Part of the Case-Studies in Economic Development book series (CASIED)


Concern for equality is a phenomenon that runs deep in Chinese culture, and it is not just to be found under China’s communist government of the past forty years. Confucius, writing in 500 BC, put it as follows: ‘What worries those who have the state and family under their charge is not the scantiness of wealth but its inequality of distribution — not poverty but disquietude. Under equal distribution there will be no feeling of poverty’ (quoted in Hu Jichuang, 1988). Since the communists came to power in 1949 the Chinese government has adopted objectives that are extremely egalitarian by comparison with other developing countries. Moreover, the high degree of central planning gave the state great powers to pursue these objectives: it had redistributive instruments not available in a mixed economy. The ‘three great inequalities’, as they have been called — inter-regional, rural-urban and intra-work unit — have been consistently addressed by policy-makers. There are at least four interesting questions:
  1. (i)

    Does a socialist strategy of development result in an egalitarian society?

  2. (ii)

    How does the distribution of income in China compare with that in other developing countries which have relied more on market forces?

  3. (iii)

    In the Chinese experience, are there trade-offs apparent between efficiency and equality, and between growth and equality?

  4. (iv)

    How is the distribution of income changing as a result of the economic reforms that began in 1978?



Income Inequality Gini Coefficient Economic Reform Housing Subsidy Rural Income 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Griffin, Keith and Zhao Renwei (eds) (1994), The Distribution of Income in China, London: Macmillan (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  2. Hu Jichuang (1988), A Concise History of Chinese Economic Thought, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.Google Scholar
  3. Khan, Azizur Rahman, Griffin, K., Riskin, C. and Zhao Renwei (1994), ‘Household Income and its Distribution’, in Keith Griffin and Zhao Renwei (1994).Google Scholar
  4. Knight, John and Lina Song (1993), ‘The Spatial Contribution to Income Inequality in Rural China’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  5. Knight, John and Lina Song (1994), ‘Why Urban Wages Differ in China’, in Keith Griffin and Zhao Renwei (1994).Google Scholar
  6. Knight, John and Li Shi (1994), ‘The Determinants of Educational Attainment’, in Keith Griffin and Zhao Renwei (1994).Google Scholar
  7. People’s Republic of China (1991), Ten Per Cent Sample Tabulation on the 1990 Population Census of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing: State Statistical Bureau, Population Census Office (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  8. Sinha, R., Pearson, P., Kadekodi, G. and Gregory, M. (1979), Income Distribution, Growth and Basic Needs in India, London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  9. Zhao Renwei (1994), ‘Three Features of the Distribution of Income During the Transition to Reform’, in Keith Griffin and Zhao Renwei (1994).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tim Lloyd and Oliver Morrissey 1994

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations