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China - Physical Environment and Population

REMARKABLY VARIED LANDSCAPES suggest the disparate climate and broad reach of China, the third largest country in the world in terms of area. China's climate ranges from subarctic to tropical. Its topography includes the world's highest peaks, tortuous but picturesque river valleys, and vast plains subject to lifethreatening but soil-enriching flooding. These characteristics have dictated where the Chinese people live and how they make their livelihood.

The majority of China's people live in the eastern segment of the country, the traditional China Proper. Most are peasants living, as did their forebears, in the low-lying hills and central plains that stretch from the highlands eastward and southward to the sea. Agriculture predominates in this vast area, generally favored by a temperate or subtropical climate. The meticulously tilled fields are evidence in part of the government's continuing concern over farm output and the food supply.

Although migration to urban areas has been restricted since the late 1950s, as of the end of 1985 about 37 percent of the population was urban. An urban and industrial corridor formed a broad arc stretching from <"http://worldfacts.us/China-Harbin.htm"> Harbin in the northeast through the Beijing area and south to China's largest city, the huge industrial metropolitan complex of Shanghai.

The uneven pattern of internal development, so strongly weighted toward the eastern part of the country, doubtless will change little even with developing interest in exploiting the mineral-rich and agriculturally productive portions of the vast northwest and southwest regions. The adverse terrain and climate of most of those regions have discouraged dense population. For the most part, only ethnic minority groups have settled there.

The "minority nationalities" are an important element of Chinese society. In 1987 there were 55 recognized minority groups, comprising nearly 7 percent of the total population. Because some of the groups were located in militarily sensitive border areas and in regions with strategic minerals, the government tried to maintain benevolent relations with the minorities. But the minorities played only a superficial role in the major affairs of the nation.

China's ethnically diverse population is the largest in the world, and the Chinese Communist Party and the government work strenuously to count, control, and care for their people. In 1982 China conducted its first population census since 1964. It was by far the most thorough and accurate census taken under Communist rule and confirmed that China was a nation of more than 1 billion people, or about one-fifth of the world's population. The census provided demographers with a wealth of accurate data on China's age-sex structure, fertility and mortality rates, and population density and distribution. Useful information also was gathered on minority ethnic groups, urban population, and marital status. For the first time since the People's Republic of China was founded, demographers had reliable information on the size and composition of the Chinese work force.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, the Chinese government introduced, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success, a number of family planning, or population control, campaigns and programs. The most radical and controversial was the one-child policy publicly announced in 1979. Under this policy, which had different guidelines for national minorities, married couples were officially permitted only one child. Enforcement of the program, however, varied considerably from place to place, depending on the vigilance of local population control workers.

Health care has improved dramatically in China since 1949. Major diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and scarlet fever have been brought under control. Life expectancy has more than doubled, and infant mortality has dropped significantly. On the negative side, the incidence of cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and heart disease has increased to the extent that these have become the leading causes of death. Economic reforms initiated in the late 1970s fundamentally altered methods of providing health care; the collective medical care system was gradually replaced by a more individual-oriented approach.

More liberalized emigration policies enacted in the 1980s facilitated the legal departure of increasing numbers of Chinese who joined their overseas Chinese relatives and friends. The Four Modernizations program, which required access of Chinese students and scholars, particularly scientists, to foreign education and research institutions, brought about increased contact with the outside world, particularly the industrialized nations. Thus, as China moved toward the twenty-first century, the diverse resources and immense population that it had committed to a comprehensive process of modernization became ever more important in the interdependent world.

China - Population

The Data Base

The People's Republic conducted censuses in 1953, 1964, and 1982. In 1987 the government announced that the fourth national census would take place in 1990 and that there would be one every ten years thereafter. The 1982 census, which reported a total population of 1,008,180,738, is generally accepted as significantly more reliable, accurate, and thorough than the previous two. Various international organizations eagerly assisted the Chinese in conducting the 1982 census, including the United Nations Fund for Population Activities which donated US$15.6 million for the preparation and execution of the census.

The nation began preparing for the 1982 census in late 1976. Chinese census workers were sent to the United States and Japan to study modern census-taking techniques and automation. Computers were installed in every provincial-level unit except Xizang and were connected to a central processing system in the Beijing headquarters of the State Statistical Bureau. Pretests and smallscale trial runs were conducted and checked for accuracy between 1980 and 1981 in twenty-four provincial-level units. Census stations were opened in rural production brigades and urban neighborhoods. Beginning July 1, 1982, each household sent a representative to a census station to be enumerated. The census required about a month to complete and employed approximately 5 million census takers.

The 1982 census collected data in nineteen demographic categories relating to individuals and households. The thirteen areas concerning individuals were name, relationship to head of household, sex, age, nationality, registration status, educational level, profession, occupation, status of nonworking persons, marital status, number of children born and still living, and number of births in 1981. The six items pertaining to households were type (domestic or collective), serial number, number of persons, number of births in 1981, number of deaths in 1981, and number of registered persons absent for more than one year. Information was gathered in a number of important areas for which previous data were either extremely inaccurate or simply nonexistent, including fertility, marital status, urban population, minority ethnic groups, sex composition, age distribution, and employment and unemployment.

A fundamental anomaly in the 1982 statistics was noted by some Western analysts. They pointed out that although the birth and death rates recorded by the census and those recorded through the household registration system were different, the two systems arrived at similar population totals. The discrepancies in the vital rates were the result of the underreporting of both births and deaths to the authorities under the registration system; families would not report some births because of the one-child policy and would not report some deaths so as to hold on to the rations of the deceased. Nevertheless, the 1982 census was a watershed for both Chinese and world demographics. After an eighteen-year gap, population specialists were given a wealth of reliable, up-to-date figures on which to reconstruct past demographic patterns, measure current population conditions, and predict future population trends. For example, Chinese and foreign demographers used the 1982 census age-sex structure as the base population for forecasting and making assumptions about future fertility trends. The data on age-specific fertility and mortality rates provided the necessary base-line information for making population projections. The census data also were useful for estimating future manpower potential, consumer needs, and utility, energy, and health-service requirements. The sudden abundance of demographic data helped population specialists immeasurably in their efforts to estimate world population. Previously, there had been no accurate information on these 21 percent of the earth's inhabitants. Demographers who had been conducting research on global population without accurate data on the Chinese fifth of the world's population were particularly thankful for the 1982 census.

Mortality and Fertility

In 1949 crude death rates were probably higher than 30 per 1,000, and the average life expectancy was only 32 years. Beginning in the early 1950s, mortality steadily declined; it continued to decline through 1978 and remained relatively constant through 1987. One major fluctuation was reported in a computer reconstruction of China's population trends from 1953 to 1987 produced by the United States Bureau of the Census (see table 6, Appendix A; data in this table may vary from officially reported statistics). The computer model showed that the crude death rate increased dramatically during the famine years associated with the Great Leap Forward, resulting in approximately 30 million deaths above the expected level.

According to Chinese government statistics, the crude birth rate followed five distinct patterns from 1949 to 1982. It remained stable from 1949 to 1954, varied widely from 1955 to 1965, experienced fluctuations between 1966 and 1969, dropped sharply in the late 1970s, and increased from 1980 to 1981. Between 1970 and 1980, the crude birth rate dropped from 36.9 per 1,000 to 17.6 per 1,000. The government attributed this dramatic decline in fertility to the wan xi shao (later marriages, longer intervals between births, and fewer children) birth control campaign. However, elements of socioeconomic change, such as increased employment of women in both urban and rural areas and reduced infant mortality (a greater percentage of surviving children would tend to reduce demand for additional children), may have played some role. To the dismay of authorities, the birth rate increased in both 1981 and 1982 to a level of 21 per 1,000, primarily as a result of a marked rise in marriages and first births. The rise was an indication of problems with the one-child policy of 1979. Chinese sources, however, indicated that the birth rate decreased to 17.8 in 1985 and remained relatively constant thereafter.

In urban areas, the housing shortage may have been at least partly responsible for the decreased birth rate. Also, the policy in force during most of the 1960s and the early 1970s of sending large numbers of high school graduates to the countryside deprived cities of a significant proportion of persons of childbearing age and undoubtedly had some effect on birth rates.

Primarily for economic reasons, rural birth rates tended to decline less than urban rates. The right to grow and sell agricultural products for personal profit and the lack of an oldage welfare system were incentives for rural people to produce many children, especially sons, for help in the fields and for support in old age. Because of these conditions, it is unclear to what degree propaganda and education improvements had been able to erode traditional values favoring large families.

Density and Distribution

Overall population density in 1986 was about 109 people per square kilometer. Density was only about one-third that of Japan and less than that of many other countries in Asia and in Europe. The overall figure, however, concealed major regional variations and the high person-land ratio in densely populated areas. In the 11 provinces, special municipalities, and autonomous regions along the southeast coast, population density was 320.6 people per square kilometer.

In 1986 about 94 percent of the population lived on approximately 36 percent of the land. Broadly speaking, the population was concentrated in China Proper, east of the mountains and south of the Great Wall. The most densely populated areas included the Chang Jiang Valley (of which the delta region was the most populous), Sichuan Basin, North China Plain, Zhu Jiang Delta, and the industrial area around the city of Shenyang in the northeast.

Population is most sparse in the mountainous, desert, and grassland regions of the northwest and southwest. In Nei Monggol Autonomous Region, portions are completely uninhabited, and only a few sections have populations more dense than ten people per square kilometer. The Nei Monggol, Xinjiang, and Xizang autonomous regions and Gansu and Qinghai provinces comprise 55 percent of the country's land area but in 1985 contained only 5.7 percent of its population.

<>Population Control Programs

Updated population figures for China.

China - Population Control Programs

Initially, China's post-1949 leaders were ideologically disposed to view a large population as an asset. But the liabilities of a large, rapidly growing population soon became apparent. For one year, starting in August 1956, vigorous propaganda support was given to the Ministry of Public Health's mass birth control efforts. These efforts, however, had little impact on fertility. After the interval of the Great Leap Forward, Chinese leaders again saw rapid population growth as an obstacle to development, and their interest in birth control revived. In the early 1960s, propaganda, somewhat more muted than during the first campaign, emphasized the virtues of late marriage. Birth control offices were set up in the central government and some provinciallevel governments in 1964. The second campaign was particularly successful in the cities, where the birth rate was cut in half during the 1963-66 period. The chaos of the Cultural Revolution brought the program to a halt, however.

In 1972 and 1973 the party mobilized its resources for a nationwide birth control campaign administered by a group in the State Council. Committees to oversee birth control activities were established at all administrative levels and in various collective enterprises. This extensive and seemingly effective network covered both the rural and the urban population. In urban areas public security headquarters included population control sections. In rural areas the country's "barefoot doctors" distributed information and contraceptives to people's commun members. By 1973 Mao Zedong was personally identified with the family planning movement, signifying a greater leadership commitment to controlled population growth than ever before. Yet until several years after Mao's death in 1976, the leadership was reluctant to put forth directly the rationale that population control was necessary for economic growth and improved living standards.

Population growth targets were set for both administrative units and individual families. In the mid-1970s the maximum recommended family size was two children in cities and three or four in the country. Since 1979 the government has advocated a onechild limit for both rural and urban areas and has generally set a maximum of two children in special circumstances. As of 1986 the policy for minority nationalities was two children per couple, three in special circumstances, and no limit for ethnic groups with very small populations. The overall goal of the one-child policy was to keep the total population within 1.2 billion through the year 2000, on the premise that the Four Modernizations program would be of little value if population growth was not brought under control.

The one-child policy was a highly ambitious population control program. Like previous programs of the 1960s and 1970s, the onechild policy employed a combination of propaganda, social pressure, and in some cases coercion. The one-child policy was unique, however, in that it linked reproduction with economic cost or benefit.

Under the one-child program, a sophisticated system rewarded those who observed the policy and penalized those who did not. Couples with only one child were given a "one-child certificate" entitling them to such benefits as cash bonuses, longer maternity leave, better child care, and preferential housing assignments. In return, they were required to pledge that they would not have more children. In the countryside, there was great pressure to adhere to the one-child limit. Because the rural population accounted for approximately 60 percent of the total, the effectiveness of the one-child policy in rural areas was considered the key to the success or failure of the program as a whole.

In rural areas the day-to-day work of family planning was done by cadres at the team and brigade levels who were responsible for women's affairs and by health workers. The women's team leader made regular household visits to keep track of the status of each family under her jurisdiction and collected information on which women were using contraceptives, the methods used, and which had become pregnant. She then reported to the brigade women's leader, who documented the information and took it to a monthly meeting of the commune birth-planning committee. According to reports, ceilings or quotas had to be adhered to; to satisfy these cutoffs, unmarried young people were persuaded to postpone marriage, couples without children were advised to "wait their turn," women with unauthorized pregnancies were pressured to have abortions, and those who already had children were urged to use contraception or undergo sterilization. Couples with more than one child were exhorted to be sterilized.

The one-child policy enjoyed much greater success in urban than in rural areas. Even without state intervention, there were compelling reasons for urban couples to limit the family to a single child. Raising a child required a significant portion of family income, and in the cities a child did not become an economic asset until he or she entered the work force at age sixteen. Couples with only one child were given preferential treatment in housing allocation. In addition, because city dwellers who were employed in state enterprises received pensions after retirement, the sex of their first child was less important to them than it was to those in rural areas.

Numerous reports surfaced of coercive measures used to achieve the desired results of the one-child policy. The alleged methods ranged from intense psychological pressure to the use of physical force, including some grisly accounts of forced abortions and infanticide. Chinese officials admitted that isolated, uncondoned abuses of the program occurred and that they condemned such acts, but they insisted that the family planning program was administered on a voluntary basis using persuasion and economic measures only. International reaction to the allegations were mixed. The UN Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Association were generally supportive of China's family planning program. The United States Agency for International Development, however, withdrew US$10 million from the Fund in March 1985 based on allegations that coercion had been used.

Observers suggested that an accurate assessment of the onechild program would not be possible until all women who came of childbearing age in the early 1980s passed their fertile years. As of 1987 the one-child program had achieved mixed results. In general, it was very successful in almost all urban areas but less successful in rural areas. The Chinese authorities must have been disturbed by the increase in the officially reported annual population growth rate (birth rate minus death rate): from 12 per 1,000, or 1.2 percent in 1980 to 14.1 per 1,000, or 1.4 percent in 1986. If the 1986 rate is maintained to the year 2000, the population will exceed 1.2 billion.

Rapid fertility reduction associated with the one-child policy has potentially negative results. For instance, in the future the elderly might not be able to rely on their children to care for them as they have in the past, leaving the state to assume the expense, which could be considerable. Based on United Nations statistics and data provided by the Chinese government, it was estimated in 1987 that by the year 2000 the population 60 years and older (the retirement age is 60 in urban areas) would number 127 million, or 10.1 percent of the total population; the projection for 2025 was 234 million elderly, or 16.4 percent. According to one Western analyst, projections based on the 1982 census show that if the one-child policy were maintained to the year 2000, 25 percent of China's population would be age 65 or older by the year 2040.


China - Migration


China has restricted internal movement in various ways. Official efforts to limit free migration between villages and cities began as early as 1952 with a series of measures designed to prevent individuals without special permission from moving to cities to take advantage of the generally higher living standards there.

The party decreased migration to cities during the 1960s and 1970s for economic and political reasons. In the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, large numbers of urban youths were "sent down" to the countryside for political and ideological reasons. Many relocated youths were eventually permitted to return to the cities, and by the mid-1980s most had done so.

The success of the agricultural reforms under Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and early 1980s dramatically increased the food supply in China's cities, making it possible for more people to come in from rural areas and survive without food ration cards. Because of the increased food supply, the authorities temporarily relaxed the enforcement of migration restrictions. This relaxation, however, was short-lived, and in May 1984 new measures strengthened residence regulations and reinstated official control over internal migration. Additionally, in March 1986 a draft revision of the 1957 migration regulations was presented to the Standing Committee of the Sixth National People's Congress calling for stricter population control policies.

Nonetheless, migration from rural areas to urban centers continued. The problem of too-rapid urbanization was exacerbated by the agricultural responsibility system, which forced a reallocation of labor and left many agricultural workers unemployed.

The central government attempted to control movement through the household registration system and promote development of small cities and towns, but within this system many people were still able to migrate primarily for employment or educational purposes. Leaving their place of official registration for days, months, or even years, unemployed agricultural workers found jobs in construction, housekeeping, or commune-run shops or restaurants. This temporary mobility was permitted by authorities because it simultaneously absorbed a large amount of surplus rural labor, improved the economies of rural areas, and satisfied urban requirements for service and other workers. The most significant aspect of the temporary migration, however, was that it was viewed as a possible initial step toward the development of small, rural-oriented urban centers that could bring employment and urban amenities to rural areas.

Although the temporary migration into the cities was seen as beneficial, controlling it was a serious concern of the central government. An April 1985 survey showed that the "floating" or nonresident population in eight selected areas of Beijing was 662,000, or 12.5 percent of the total population. The survey also showed that people entered or left Beijing 880,000 times a day. In an effort to control this activity, neighborhood committees and work units (danwei) were required to comply with municipal regulations issued in January 1986. These regulations stipulated that communities and work units keep records on visitors, that those staying in Beijing for up to three days must be registered, and that those planning to stay longer must obtain temporary residence permits from local police stations.

Although some cities were crowded, other areas of China were underpopulated. For example, China had little success populating the frontier regions. As early as the 1950s, the government began to organize and fund migration for land reclamation, industrialization, and construction in the interior and frontier regions. Land reclamation was carried out by state farms located largely in Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang Province. Large numbers of migrants were sent to such outlying regions as Nei Monggol Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province to work in factories and mines and to Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region to develop agriculture and industry. In the late 1950s, and especially in the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, many city youths were sent to the frontier areas. Much of the resettled population returned home, however, because of insufficient government support, harsh climate, and a general inability to adjust to life in the outlying regions. China's regional population distribution was consequently as unbalanced in 1986 as it had been in 1953. Nevertheless, efforts were still underway in 1987 to encourage migration to the frontier regions.


In 1987 China had a total of twenty-nine provincial-level administrative units directly under the central government in Beijing. In addition to the twenty-one provinces (sheng), there were five autonomous regions (zizhiqu) for minority nationalities, and three special municipalities (shi)--the three largest cities, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin. (The establishment of Hainan Island as a provincial-level unit separate from Guangdong Province was scheduled to take place in 1988.) A 1979 change in provincial-level administrative boundaries in the northeast region restored Nei Monggol Autonomous Region to its original size (it had been reduced by a third in 1969) at the expense of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces. Urban areas were further subdivided into lower-level administrative units beginning with municipalities and extending down to the neighborhood level.

The pace of urbanization in China from 1949 to 1982 was relatively slow because of both rapid growth of the rural population and tight restrictions on rural-urban migration for most of that period. According to the 1953 and 1982 censuses, the urban population as a percentage of total population increased from 13.3 to 20.6 percent during that period. From 1982 to 1986, however, the urban population increased dramatically to 37 percent of the total population. This large jump resulted from a combination of factors. One was the migration of large numbers of surplus agricultural workers, displaced by the agricultural responsibility system, from rural to urban areas. Another was a 1984 decision to broaden the criteria for classifying an area as a city or town. During 1984 the number of towns meeting the new urban criteria increased more than twofold, and the urban town population doubled. In the mid-1980s demographers expected the proportion of the population living in cities and towns to be around 50 percent by the turn of the century. This urban growth was expected to result primarily from the increase in the number of small- and medium-sized cities and towns rather than from an expansion of existing large cities.

China's statistics regarding urban population sometimes can be misleading because of the various criteria used to calculate urban population. In the 1953 census, urban essentially referred to settlements with populations of more than 2,500, in which more than 50 percent of the labor force were involved in nonagricultural pursuits. The 1964 census raised the cut-off to 3,000 and the requirement for nonagricultural labor to 70 percent. The 1982 census used the 3,000/70 percent minimum but introduced criteria of 2,500 to 3,000 and 85 percent as well. Also, in calculating urban population, the 1982 census made a radical change by including the agricultural population residing within the city boundaries. This explains the dramatic jump in urban population from the 138.7 million reported for year-end 1981 to the 206.6 million counted by the 1982 census. In 1984 the urban guidelines were further loosened, allowing for lower minimum population totals and nonagricultural percentages. The criteria varied among provinciallevel units.

Although China's urban population--382 million, or 37 percent of the total population in the mid-1980s--was relatively low by comparison with developed nations, the number of people living in urban areas in China was greater than the total population of any country in the world except India and the Soviet Union. The four Chinese cities with the largest populations in 1985 were Shanghai, with 7 million; Beijing, with 5.9 million; Tianjin, with 5.4 million; and Shenyang, with 4.2 million. The disproportionate distribution of population in large cities occurred as a result of the government's emphasis after 1949 on the development of large cities over smaller urban areas. In 1985 the 22 most populous cities in China had a total population of 47.5 million, or about 12 percent of China's total urban population. The number of cities with populations of at least 100,000 increased from 200 in 1976 to 342 in 1986 (see table 8, Appendix A).

In 1987 China was committed to a three-part strategy to control urban growth: strictly limiting the size of big cities (those of 500,000 or more people); developing medium-sized cities (200,000 to 500,000); and encouraging the growth of small cities (100,000 to 200,000). The government also encouraged the development of small market and commune centers that were not then officially designated as urban places, hoping that they eventually would be transformed into towns and small cities. The big and medium-sized cities were viewed as centers of heavy and light industry, and small cities and towns were looked on as possible locations for handicraft and workshop activities, using labor provided mainly from rural overflow.

Emigration and Immigration

Through most of China's history, strict controls prevented large numbers of people from leaving the country. In modern times, however, periodically some have been allowed to leave for various reasons. For example, in the early 1960s, about 100,000 people were allowed to enter Hong Kong. In the late 1970s, vigilance against illegal migration to Hong Kong was again relaxed somewhat. Perhaps as many as 200,000 reached Hong Kong in 1979, but in 1980 authorities on both sides resumed concerted efforts to reduce the flow.

In 1983 emigration restrictions were eased as a result in part of the economic open-door policy. In 1984 more than 11,500 business visas were issued to Chinese citizens, and in 1985 approximately 15,000 Chinese scholars and students were in the United States alone. Any student who had the economic resources, from whatever source, could apply for permission to study abroad. United States consular offices issued more than 12,500 immigrant visas in 1984, and there were 60,000 Chinese with approved visa petitions in the immigration queue.

Export of labor to foreign countries also increased. The Soviet Union, Iraq, and the Federal Republic of Germany requested 500,000 workers, and as of 1986 China had sent 50,000. The signing of the United States-China Consular Convention in 1983 demonstrated the commitment to more liberal emigration policies. The two sides agreed to permit travel for the purpose of family reunification and to facilitate travel for individuals who claim both Chinese and United States citizenship. Emigrating from China remained a complicated and lengthy process, however, mainly because many countries were unwilling or unable to accept the large numbers of people who wished to emigrate. Other difficulties included bureaucratic delays and in some cases a reluctance on the part of Chinese authorities to issue passports and exit permits to individuals making notable contributions to the modernization effort.

The only significant immigration to China has been by the overseas Chinese, who in the years since 1949 have been offered various enticements to return to their homeland. Several million may have done so since 1949. The largest influx came in 1978-79, when about 160,000 to 250,000 ethnic Chinese fled Vietnam for southern China as relations between the two countries worsened. Many of these refugees were reportedly settled in state farms on Hainan Island in the South China Sea.


China - Minorities

Demographic Overview

Approximately 93 percent of China's population is considered Han. Sharp regional and cultural differences, including major variations in spoken Chinese, exist among the Han, who are a mingling of many peoples. All the Han nonetheless use a common written form of Chinese and share the social organization, values, and cultural characteristics universally recognized as Chinese.

Officially, China has fifty-six "nationality" groups, including the Han. The Chinese define a nationality as a group of people of common origin living in a common area, using a common language, and having a sense of group identity in economic and social organization and behavior. Altogether, China has fifteen major linguistic regions generally coinciding with the geographic distribution of the major minority nationalities. Members of non-Han groups, referred to as the "minority nationalities," constitute only about 7 percent of the total population but number more than 70 million people and are distributed over 60 percent of the land.

Some minority nationalities can be found only in a single region; others may have settlements in two or more. In general, however, the minorities are concentrated in the provinces and autonomous regions of the northwest and the southwest. In Xizang, Xinjiang, and Nei Monggol autonomous regions, minorities occupy large frontier areas; many are traditionally nomadic and engage primarily in agriculture or pastoral pursuits. Minority groups in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces and in the Guangxi-Zhuang Autonomous Region are more fragmented and inhabit smaller areas.

According to the 1982 census, approximately 95 percent of Xizang's civilian population of 1.9 million are Tibetan (Zang nationality). An internally cohesive group, the Tibetans have proven the most resistant of the minority groups to the government's integration efforts. Xinjiang, which is as vast and distant from Beijing as Xizang, is the minority area next in demographic and political significance. Despite a large-scale immigration of Han since the 1950s, in 1985 around 60 percent of Xinjiang's 13.4 million population belonged to minority nationalities. Of these, the most important were 6.1 million Uygurs and more than 900,000 Kazaks, both Turkic-speaking Central Asian peoples (see table 9, Appendix A).

Provinces with large concentrations of minorities include Yunnan, where the Yi and other minority groups comprised an estimated 32 percent of the population in 1985; Guizhou, home of more than half of the approximately 4 million Miao; and sparsely populated Qinghai, which except for the area around the provincial capital of Xining is inhabited primarily by Tibetans and other minority nationality members, amounting in 1986 to approximately 37 percent of the total provincial population. Additionally, in 1986 minority nationalities constituted approximately 16 percent of the population of Nei Monggol Autonomous Region. The Guangxi-Zhuang Autonomous Region contains almost all of the approximately 13.5 million members of what is China's largest minority nationality, the Zhuang; most of them, however, are highly assimilated.

Because many of the minority nationalities are located in politically sensitive frontier areas, they have acquired an importance greater than their numbers. Some groups have common ancestry with peoples in neighboring countries. For example, members of the Shan, Korean, Mongol, Uygur and Kazak, and Yao nationalities are found not only in China but also in Burma, Korea, the Mongolian People's Republic, the Soviet Union, and Thailand, respectively. If the central government failed to maintain good relations with these groups, China's border security could be jeopardized. Since 1949 Chinese officials have declared that the minorities are politically equal to the Han majority and in fact should be accorded preferential treatment because of their small numbers and poor economic circumstances. The government has tried to ensure that the minorities are well represented at national conferences and has relaxed certain policies that might have impeded their socioeconomic development.

The minority areas are economically as well as politically important. China's leaders have suggested that by the turn of the century the focus of economic development should shift to the northwest. The area is rich in natural resources, with uranium deposits and abundant oil reserves in Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region. Much of China's forestland is located in the border regions of the northeast and southwest, and large numbers of livestock are raised in the arid and semiarid northwest. Also, the vast amount of virgin land in minority areas can be used for resettlement to relieve population pressures in the densely populated regions of the country.

In the early 1980s, the central government adopted various measures to provide financial and economic assistance to the minority areas. The government allotted subsidies totaling approximately -Y6,000 million in 1984 to balance any deficits experienced in autonomous areas inhabited by minority nationalities. After 1980 the autonomous regions of Nei Monggol, Xinjiang, Xizang, Guangxi, and Ningxia and the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Qinghai were permitted to keep all revenues for themselves. The draft state budget written in April 1986 allocated a special grant of -Y800 million to the underdeveloped minority nationality areas over and above the regular state subsidies. The standard of living in the minority areas improved dramatically from the early to the mid-1980s. In Xizang Autonomous Region, annual per capita income increased from - Y216 in 1983 to -Y317 in 1984 (national per capita income was -Y663 in 1983 and -Y721 in 1984). The per capita net income of the minority areas in Yunnan Province increased from -Y118 in 1980 to - Y263 in 1984, for an increase of 81.3 percent. Overall, however, the minority areas remained relatively undeveloped in 1986.


Since 1949 government policy toward minorities has been based on the somewhat contradictory goals of national unity and the protection of minority equality and identity. The state constitution of 1954 declared the country to be a "unified, multinational state" and prohibited "discrimination against or oppression of any nationality and acts which undermine the unity of the nationalities." All nationalities were granted equal rights and duties. Policy toward the ethnic minorities in the 1950s was based on the assumption that they could and should be integrated into the Han polity by gradual assimilation, while permitted initially to retain their own cultural identity and to enjoy a modicum of selfrule . Accordingly, autonomous regions were established in which minority languages were recognized, special efforts were mandated to recruit a certain percentage of minority cadres, and minority culture and religion were ostensibly protected. The minority areas also benefited from substantial government investment.

Yet the attention to minority rights took place within the larger framework of strong central control. Minority nationalities, many with strong historical and recent separatist or anti-Han tendencies, were given no rights of self-determination. With the special exception of Xizang in the 1950s, Beijing administered minority regions as vigorously as Han areas, and Han cadres filled the most important leadership positions. Minority nationalities were integrated into the national political and economic institutions and structures. Party statements hammered home the idea of the unity of all the nationalities and downplayed any part of minority history that identified insufficiently with China Proper. Relations with the minorities were strained because of traditional Han attitudes of cultural superiority. Central authorities criticized this "Han chauvinism" but found its influence difficult to eradicate.

Pressure on the minority peoples to conform were stepped up in the late 1950s and subsequently during the Cultural Revolution. Ultraleftist ideology maintained that minority distinctness was an inherently reactionary barrier to socialist progress. Although in theory the commitment to minority rights remained, repressive assimilationist policies were pursued. Minority languages were looked down upon by the central authorities, and cultural and religious freedom was severely curtailed or abolished. Minority group members were forced to give up animal husbandry in order to grow crops that in some cases were unfamiliar. State subsidies were reduced, and some autonomous areas were abolished. These policies caused a great deal of resentment, resulting in a major rebellion in Xizang in 1959 and a smaller one in Xinjiang in 1962, the latter bringing about the flight of some 60,000 Kazak herders across the border to the Soviet Union. Scattered reports of violence in minority areas in the 1966-76 decade suggest that discontent was high at that time also.

After the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976, policies toward the ethnic minorities were moderated regarding language, religion and culture, and land-use patterns, with the admission that the assimilationist policies had caused considerable alienation. The new leadership pledged to implement a bona fide system of autonomy for the ethnic minorities and placed great emphasis on the need to recruit minority cadres.

Although the minorities accounted for only about 7 percent of China's population, the minority deputies to the National People's Congress made up 13.5 percent of all representatives to the congress in 1985, and 5 of the 22 vice chairmen of its Standing Committee (23 percent) in 1983 were minority nationals. A Mongol, Ulanhu, was elected vice president of China in June 1983. Nevertheless, political administration of the minority areas was the same as that in Han regions, and the minority nationalities were subject to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party. Despite the avowed desire to integrate the minorities into the political mainstream, the party was not willing to share key decision-making powers with the ethnic minorities. As of the late 1970s, the minority nationality cadres accounted for only 3 to 5 percent of all cadres.

Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese government in the mid-1980s was pursuing a liberal policy toward the national minorities. Full autonomy became a constitutional right, and policy stipulated that Han cadres working in the minority areas learn the local spoken and written languages. Significant concessions were made to Xizang, historically the most nationalistic of the minority areas. The number of Tibetan cadres as a percentage of all cadres in Xizang increased from 50 percent in 1979 to 62 percent in 1985. In Zhejiang Province the government formally decided to assign only cadres familiar with nationality policy and sympathetic to minorities to cities, prefectures, and counties with large numbers of minority people. In Xinjiang the leaders of the region's fourteen prefectural and city governments and seventy-seven of all eighty-six rural and urban leaders were of minority nationality.


China - Labor Force

A 10-percent sample tabulation of census questionnaires from the 1982 census provided badly needed statistical data on China's working population and allowed the first reliable estimates of the labor force's size and characteristics. The quality of the data was considered to be quite high, although a 40-million-person discrepancy existed between the 10-percent sample and the regular employment statistics. This discrepancy can be explained by the combination of inaccurate employment statistics and varying methods of calculation and scope of coverage. The estimated mid-1982 labor force was 546 million, or approximately 54 percent of the total population. Males accounted for slightly more than half of the estimated labor force, and the labor force participation rates for persons age fifteen years and older were among the highest in the world.

The 10-percent sample showed that approximately three-fourths of the labor force worked in the agricultural sector. According to the State Statistical Bureau, in the mid-1980s more than 120 million people worked in the nonagricultural sector. The sample revealed that men occupied the great majority of leadership positions. The average worker was a youthful thirty-three years old, and three out of every four workers were under forty-five years of age. The working population had a low education level. Less than 40 percent of the labor force had more than a primary school education, and 30 percent were illiterate or semiliterate.

In mid-1982 the overall unemployment rate was estimated to be about 5 percent. Of the approximately 25 million unemployed, 12 million were men and 13 million were women. The unemployment rate was highest in the northeast and lowest in the south. The unemployment rates were higher than those of East Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific island countries for which data were available but were lower than the rates found in North America and Europe. Virtually all of the unemployed persons in cities and towns were under twenty years of age.

China - Health Care

Since the founding of the People's Republic, the goal of health programs has been to provide care to every member of the population and to make maximum use of limited health-care personnel, equipment, and financial resources. The emphasis has been on preventive rather than curative medicine on the premise that preventive medicine is "active" while curative medicine is "passive." The health-care system has dramatically improved the health of the people, as reflected by the remarkable increase in average life expectancy from about thirty-two years in 1950 to sixty-nine years in 1985.

After 1949 the Ministry of Public Health was responsible for all health-care activities and established and supervised all facets of health policy. Along with a system of national, provincial-level, and local facilities, the ministry regulated a network of industrial and state enterprise hospitals and other facilities covering the health needs of workers of those enterprises. In 1981 this additional network provided approximately 25 percent of the country's total health services. Health care was provided in both rural and urban areas through a three-tiered system. In rural areas the first tier was made up of barefoot doctors working out of village medical centers. They provided preventive and primary-care services, with an average of two doctors per 1,000 people. At the next level were the township health centers, which functioned primarily as out-patient clinics for about 10,000 to 30,000 people each. These centers had about ten to thirty beds each, and the most qualified members of the staff were assistant doctors. The two lower-level tiers made up the "rural collective health system" that provided most of the country's medical care. Only the most seriously ill patients were referred to the third and final tier, the county hospitals, which served 200,000 to 600,000 people each and were staffed by senior doctors who held degrees from 5-year medical schools. Health care in urban areas was provided by paramedical personnel assigned to factories and neighborhood health stations. If more professional care was necessary the patient was sent to a district hospital, and the most serious cases were handled by municipal hospitals. To ensure a higher level of care, a number of state enterprises and government agencies sent their employees directly to district or municipal hospitals, circumventing the paramedical, or barefoot doctor, stage.

An emphasis on public health and preventive treatment characterized health policy from the beginning of the 1950s. At that time the party began to mobilize the population to engage in mass "patriotic health campaigns" aimed at improving the low level of environmental sanitation and hygiene and attacking certain diseases. One of the best examples of this approach was the mass assaults on the "four pests"--rats, sparrows, flies, and mosquitoes--and on schistosoma-carrying snails. Particular efforts were devoted in the health campaigns to improving water quality through such measures as deep-well construction and human-waste treatment. Only in the larger cities had human waste been centrally disposed. In the countryside, where "night soil" has always been collected and applied to the fields as fertilizer, it was a major source of disease. Since the 1950s, rudimentary treatments such as storage in pits, composting, and mixture with chemicals have been implemented.

As a result of preventive efforts, such epidemic diseases as cholera, plague, typhoid, and scarlet fever have almost been eradicated. The mass mobilization approach proved particularly successful in the fight against syphilis, which was reportedly eliminated by the 1960s. The incidence of other infectious and parasitic diseases was reduced and controlled. Relaxation of certain sanitation and antiepidemic programs since the 1960s, however, may have resulted in some increased incidence of disease. In the early 1980s, continuing deficiencies in human-waste treatment were indicated by the persistence of such diseases as hookworm and schistosomiasis. Tuberculosis, a major health hazard in 1949, remained a problem to some extent in the 1980s, as did hepatitis, malaria, and dysentery. In the late 1980s, the need for health education and improved sanitation was still apparent, but it was more difficult to carry out the health-care campaigns because of the breakdown of the brigade system. By the mid-1980s, China recognized the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) virus as a serious health threat but remained relatively unaffected by the deadly disease. As of mid-1987 there was confirmation of only two deaths of Chinese citizens from AIDS, and monitoring of foreigners had begun. Following a 1987 regional World Health Organization meeting, the Chinese government announced it would join the global fight against AIDS, which would involve quarantine inspection of people entering China from abroad, medical supervision of people vulnerable to AIDS, and establishment of AIDS laboratories in coastal cities. Additionally, it was announced that China was experimenting with the use of traditional medicine to treat AIDS.

In the mid-1980s the leading causes of death in China were similar to those in the industrialized world: cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and heart disease. Some of the more prevalent forms of fatal cancers included cancer of the stomach, esophagus, liver, lung, and colon-rectum. The frequency of these diseases was greater for men than for women, and lung cancer mortality was much greater in higher income areas. The degree of risk for the different kinds of cancers varied widely by region. For example, nasopharyngeal cancer was found primarily in south China, while the incidence of esophageal cancer was higher in the north.

To address concerns over health, the Chinese greatly increased the number and quality of health-care personnel, although in 1986 serious shortages still existed. In 1949 only 33,000 nurses and 363,000 physicians were practicing; by 1985 the numbers had risen dramatically to 637,000 nurses and 1.4 million physicians. Some 436,000 physicians' assistants were trained in Western medicine and had 2 years of medical education after junior high school. Official Chinese statistics also reported that the number of paramedics increased from about 485,400 in 1975 to more than 853,400 in 1982. The number of students in medical and pharmaceutical colleges in China rose from about 100,000 in 1975 to approximately 160,000 in 1982.

Efforts were made to improve and expand medical facilities. The number of hospital beds increased from 1.7 million in 1976 to 2.2 million in 1984, or to 2 beds per 1,000 compared with 4.5 beds per 1,000 in 1981 in the United States. The number of hospitals increased from 63,000 in 1976 to 67,000 in 1984, and the number of specialized hospitals and scientific research institutions doubled during the same period.

The availability and quality of health care varied widely from city to countryside. According to 1982 census data, in rural areas the crude death rate was 1.6 per 1,000 higher than in urban areas, and life expectancy was about 4 years lower. The number of senior physicians per 1,000 population was about 10 times greater in urban areas than in rural ones; state expenditure on medical care was more than -Y26 per capita in urban areas and less than -Y3 per capita in rural areas. There were also about twice as many hospital beds in urban areas as in rural areas. These are aggregate figures, however, and certain rural areas had much better medical care and nutritional levels than others.

In 1987 economic reforms were causing a fundamental transformation of the rural health-care system. The decollectivization of agriculture resulted in a decreased desire on the part of the rural populations to support the collective welfare system, of which health care was a part. In 1984 surveys showed that only 40 to 45 percent of the rural population was covered by an organized cooperative medical system, as compared with 80 to 90 percent in 1979.

This shift entailed a number of important consequences for rural health care. The lack of financial resources for the cooperatives resulted in a decrease in the number of barefoot doctors, which meant that health education and primary and home care suffered and that in some villages sanitation and water supplies were checked less frequently. Also, the failure of the cooperative health-care system limited the funds available for continuing education for barefoot doctors, thereby hindering their ability to provide adequate preventive and curative services. The costs of medical treatment increased, deterring some patients from obtaining necessary medical attention. If the patients could not pay for services received, then the financial responsibility fell on the hospitals and commune health centers, in some cases creating large debts.

Consequently, in the post-Mao era of modernization, the rural areas were forced to adapt to a changing health-care environment. Many barefoot doctors went into private practice, operating on a fee-for-service basis and charging for medication. But soon farmers demanded better medical services as their incomes increased, bypassing the barefoot doctors and going straight to the commune health centers or county hospitals. A number of barefoot doctors left the medical profession after discovering that they could earn a better living from farming, and their services were not replaced. The leaders of brigades, through which local health care was administered, also found farming to be more lucrative than their salaried positions, and many of them left their jobs. Many of the cooperative medical programs collapsed. Farmers in some brigades established voluntary health-insurance programs but had difficulty organizing and administering them.

Although the practice of traditional Chinese medicine was strongly promoted by the Chinese leadership and remained a major component of health care, Western medicine was gaining increasing acceptance in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, the number of physicians and pharmacists trained in Western medicine reportedly increased by 225,000 from 1976 to 1981, and the number of physicians' assistants trained in Western medicine increased by about 50,000. In 1981 there were reportedly 516,000 senior physicians trained in Western medicine and 290,000 senior physicians trained in traditional Chinese medicine. The goal of China's medical professionals is to synthesize the best elements of traditional and Western approaches.

In practice, however, this combination has not always worked smoothly. In many respects, physicians trained in traditional medicine and those trained in Western medicine constitute separate groups with different interests. For instance, physicians trained in Western medicine have been somewhat reluctant to accept "unscientific" traditional practices, and traditional practitioners have sought to preserve authority in their own sphere. Although Chinese medical schools that provided training in Western medicine also provided some instruction in traditional medicine, relatively few physicians were regarded as competent in both areas in the mid- 1980s.

The extent to which traditional and Western treatment methods were combined and integrated in the major hospitals varied greatly. Some hospitals and medical schools of purely traditional medicine were established. In most urban hospitals, the pattern seemed to be to establish separate departments for traditional and Western treatment. In the county hospitals, however, traditional medicine received greater emphasis.

Traditional medicine depends on herbal treatments, acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion (the burning of herbs over acupuncture points), and "cupping" of skin with heated bamboo. Such approaches are believed to be most effective in treating minor and chronic diseases, in part because of milder side effects. Traditional treatments may be used for more serious conditions as well, particularly for such acute abdominal conditions as appendicitis, pancreatitis, and gallstones; sometimes traditional treatments are used in combination with Western treatments. A traditional method of orthopedic treatment, involving less immobilization than Western methods, continued to be widely used in the 1980s.

Although health care in China developed in very positive ways by the mid-1980s, it exacerbated the problem of overpopulation. In 1987 China was faced with a population four times that of the United States and over three times that of the Soviet Union. Efforts to distribute the population over a larger portion of the country had failed: only the minority nationalities seemed able to thrive in the mountainous or desert-covered frontiers. Birth control programs implemented in the 1970s succeeded in reducing the birth rate, but estimates in the mid-1980s projected that China's population will surpass the 1.2 billion mark by the turn of the century, putting still greater pressure on the land and resources of the nation.

China - Society

CHINA, THE WORLD'S LARGEST SOCIETY, is united by a set of values and institutions that cut across extensive linguistic, environmental, and subcultural differences. Residents of the southern and northern regions of the country might not understand each other's speech, enjoy each other's favorite foods, or make a living from each other's land, and they might describe each other with derogatory stereotypes. Nonetheless, they would regard each other as fellow Chinese, members of the same society, and different from the Vietnamese or Koreans, with whom some Chinese might seem to have more in common.

Chinese society, since the second decade of the twentieth century, has been the object of a revolution intended to change it in fundamental ways. In its more radical phases, such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-60) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the revolution aimed at nothing less than the complete transformation of everything from the practice of medicine, to higher education, to family life. In the 1980s China's leaders and intellectuals considered the revolution far from completed, and they intended further social change to make China a fully modernized country. It had become increasingly clear that although many aspects of Chinese social life had indeed undergone fundamental changes as a result of both political movements and economic development, the transformation was less than total. Much of the past either lived on in modified form or served to shape revolutionary initiatives and to limit the choices open to even the most radical of revolutionaries.


China is, like all large states, multiethnic; but one ethnic group--the Han Chinese --dominates the politics, government, and economy. This account focuses on the Han, and it considers the minority peoples only in relation to the Han ethnic group.

Over the centuries a great many peoples who were originally not Chinese have been assimilated into Chinese society. Entry into Han society has not demanded religious conversion or formal initiation. It has depended on command of the Chinese written language and evidence of adherence to Chinese values and customs. For the most part, what has distinguished those groups that have been assimilated from those that have not has been the suitability of their environment for Han agriculture. People living in areas where Chinese-style agriculture is feasible have either been displaced or assimilated. The consequence is that most of China's minorities inhabit extensive tracts of land unsuited for Han-style agriculture; they are not usually found as long-term inhabitants of Chinese cities or in close proximity to most Han villages. Those living on steppes, near desert oases, or in high mountains, and dependent on pastoral nomadism or shifting cultivation, have retained their ethnic distinctiveness outside Han society. The sharpest ethnic boundary has been between the Han and the steppe pastoralists, a boundary sharpened by centuries of conflict and cycles of conquest and subjugation. Reminders of these differences are the absence of dairy products from the otherwise extensive repertoire of Han cuisine and the distaste most Chinese feel for such typical steppe specialties as tea laced with butter.

Official policy recognizes the multiethnic nature of the Chinese state, within which all "nationalities" are formally equal. On the one hand, it is not state policy to force the assimilation of minority nationalities, and such nonpolitical expressions of ethnicity as native costumes and folk dances are encouraged. On the other hand, China's government is a highly centralized one that recognizes no legitimate limits to its authority, and minority peoples in far western Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region, for example, are considered Chinese citizens just as much as Han farmers on the outskirts of Beijing are.

Official attitudes toward minority peoples are inconsistent, if not contradictory. Since 1949 policies toward minorities have fluctuated between tolerance and coercive attempts to impose Han standards. Tolerant periods have been marked by subsidized material benefits intended to win loyalty, while coercive periods such as the Cultural Revolution have attempted to eradicate "superstition" and to overthrow insufficiently radical or insufficiently nationalistic local leaders.

What has not varied has been the assumption that it is the central government that decides what is best for minority peoples and that national citizenship takes precedence over ethnic identity. In fact, minority nationality is a legal status in China. The government reserves for itself the right to determine whether or not a group is a minority nationality, and the list has been revised several times since the 1950s. In the mid-1980s the state recognized 55 minority nationalities, some with as few as 1,1000 members. Minority nationalities are guaranteed special representation in the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Areas where minorities form the majority of the population may be designated "autonomous" counties, prefectures, or regions, subject to the authority of the central government in Beijing rather than to provincial or subprovincial administrations. It is expected that local administrations in such regions will be staffed at least in part by minority nationals and that application of national policies will take into account local circumstances and special needs. In the early 1980s, for example, minority peoples were exempted from the strict limitations on the number of children per family dictated to the Han population.

Most Han Chinese have no contact with members of minority groups. But in areas such as the Xizang (also known as Tibet) or Xinjiang autonomous regions, where large numbers of Han have settled since the assertion of Chinese central government authority over them in the 1950s, there is clearly some ethnic tension. The tension stems from Han dominance over such previously independent or semi-autonomous peoples as the Tibetans and Uygurs, from Cultural Revolution attacks on religious observances, and from Han disdain for and lack of sensitivity to minority cultures. In the autonomous areas the ethnic groups appear to lead largely separate lives, and most Han in those areas either work as urban-based administrators and professionals or serve in military installations or on state farms. Since the late 1970s, the central authorities have made efforts to conciliate major ethnic minorities by sponsoring the revival of religious festivals and by increasing the level of subsidies to the poorest minority regions. Because of these efforts, other moderate government policies, and the geographic distribution and relatively small size of minority groups in China, the country has not suffered widespread or severe ethnic conflict.


The differences among regional and linguistic subgroups of Han Chinese are at least as great as those among many European nationalities. Han Chinese speak seven or eight mutually unintelligible dialects, each of which has many local subdialects. Cultural differences (cuisine, costume, and custom) are equally great. Modern Chinese history provides many examples of conflict, up to the level of small-scale regional wars, between linguistic and regional groups.

Such diversities, however, have not generated exclusive loyalties, and distinctions in religion or political affiliation have not reinforced regional differences. Rather, there has been a consistent tendency in Chinese thought and practice to downplay intra-Han distinctions, which are regarded as minor and superficial. What all Han share is more significant than the ways in which they differ. In conceptual terms, the boundary between Han and non-Han is absolute and sharp, while boundaries between subsets of Han are subject to continual shifts, are dictated by local conditions, and do not produce the isolation inherent in relations between Han and minority groups.

Han ethnic unity is the result of two ancient and culturally central Chinese institutions, one of which is the written language. Chinese is written with ideographs (sometimes called characters) that represent meanings rather than sounds, and so written Chinese does not reflect the speech of its author. The disjunction between written and spoken Chinese means that a newspaper published in Beijing can be read in Shanghai or Guangzhou, although the residents of the three cities would not understand each other's speech. It also means that there can be no specifically Cantonese (Guangzhou dialect) or Hunanese literature because the local speech of a region cannot be directly or easily represented in writing. (It is possible to add local color to fiction, cite colloquialisms, or transcribe folk songs, but it is not commonly done.) Therefore, local languages have not become a focus for regional selfconsciousness or nationalism. Educated Chinese tend to regard the written ideographs as primary, and they regard the seven or eight spoken Han Chinese dialects as simply variant ways of pronouncing the same ideographs. This is linguistically inaccurate, but the attitude has significant political and social consequences. The uniform written language in 1987 continued to be a powerful force for Han unity.

The other major force contributing to Han ethnic unity has been the centralized imperial state. The ethnic group takes its name from the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Although the imperial government never directly controlled the villages, it did have a strong influence on popular values and culture. The average peasant could not read and was not familiar with the details of state administration or national geography, but he was aware of belonging to a group of subcontinental scope. Being Han, even for illiterate peasants, has meant conscious identification with a glorious history and a state of immense proportions. Peasant folklore and folk religion assumed that the imperial state, with an emperor and an administrative bureaucracy, was the normal order of society. In the imperial period, the highest prestige went to scholar-officials, and every schoolboy had the possibility, at least theoretically, of passing the civil service examinations and becoming an official.

The prestige of the state and its popular identification with the highest values of Chinese civilization were not accidents; they were the final result of a centuries-long program of indoctrination and education directed by the Confucian scholar-officials. Traditional Chinese society can be distinguished from other premodern civilizations to the extent that the state, rather than organized religious groups or ethnic segments of society, was able to appropriate the symbols of wisdom, morality, and the common good. The legacy for modern Chinese society has been a strong centralized government that has the right to impose its values on the population and against which there is no legitimate right of dissent or secession.


The leaders who directed the efforts to change Chinese society after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 were raised in the old society and had been marked with its values. Although they were conscious revolutionaries, they could not wholly escape the culture into which they had been born. Nationalists as well as revolutionaries, they had no intention of transforming China into a replica of any foreign country. They had an ambivalent attitude toward their country's past and its traditional society, condemning some aspects and praising others. Furthermore, as practical administrators, China's post-1949 leaders devoted energy and attention to changing some aspects of traditional society, such as rural land tenure and the content of education, while leaving other aspects, such as family structure, largely untouched. Change in Chinese society, therefore, has been less than total and less consistent than has often been claimed by official spokesmen. To understand contemporary society, it is necessary to be familiar with past legacies, particularly in the realm of values and in areas of social life, such as family organization, where transformation has not been a high-priority political goal.

China's traditional values were contained in the orthodox version of Confucianism, which was taught in the academies and tested in the imperial civil service examinations. These values are distinctive for their this-worldly emphasis on society and public administration and for their wide diffusion throughout Chinese society. Confucianism, never a religion in any accepted sense, is primarily concerned with social order. Social harmony is to be achieved within the state, whose administrators consciously select the proper policies and act to educate both the rulers and the subject masses. Confucianism originated and developed as the ideology of professional administrators and continued to bear the impress of its origins.

Imperial-era Confucianists concentrated on this world and had an agnostic attitude toward the supernatural. They approved of ritual and ceremony, but primarily for their supposed educational and psychological effects on those participating. Confucianists tended to regard religious specialists (who historically were often rivals for authority or imperial favor) as either misguided or intent on squeezing money from the credulous masses. The major metaphysical element in Confucian thought was the belief in an impersonal ultimate natural order that included the social order. Confucianists asserted that they understood the inherent pattern for social and political organization and therefore had the authority to run society and the state.

The Confucianists claimed authority based on their knowledge, which came from direct mastery of a set of books. These books, the Confucian Classics, were thought to contain the distilled wisdom of the past and to apply to all human beings everywhere at all times. The mastery of the Classics was the highest form of education and the best possible qualification for holding public office. The way to achieve the ideal society was to teach the entire people as much of the content of the Classics as possible. It was assumed that everyone was educable and that everyone needed educating. The social order may have been natural, but it was not assumed to be instinctive. Confucianism put great stress on learning, study, and all aspects of socialization. Confucianists preferred internalized moral guidance to the external force of law, which they regarded as a punitive force applied to those unable to learn morality. Confucianists saw the ideal society as a hierarchy, in which everyone knew his or her proper place and duties. The existence of a ruler and of a state were taken for granted, but Confucianists held that rulers had to demonstrate their fitness to rule by their "merit." The essential point was that heredity was an insufficient qualification for legitimate authority. As practical administrators, Confucianists came to terms with hereditary kings and emperors but insisted on their right to educate rulers in the principles of Confucian thought. Traditional Chinese thought thus combined an ideally rigid and hierarchical social order with an appreciation for education, individual achievement, and mobility within the rigid structure.

Diffusion of Values

While ideally everyone would benefit from direct study of the Classics, this was not a realistic goal in a society composed largely of illiterate peasants. But Confucianists had a keen appreciation for the influence of social models and for the socializing and teaching functions of public rituals and ceremonies. The common people were thought to be influenced by the examples of their rulers and officials, as well as by public events. Vehicles of cultural transmission, such as folk songs, popular drama, and literature and the arts, were the objects of government and scholarly attention. Many scholars, even if they did not hold public office, put a great deal of effort into popularizing Confucian values by lecturing on morality, publicly praising local examples of proper conduct, and "reforming" local customs, such as bawdy harvest festivals. In this manner, over hundreds of years, the values of Confucianism were diffused across China and into scattered peasant villages and rural culture.

The Confucian Legacy

Traditional values have clearly shaped much of contemporary Chinese life. The belief in rule by an educated and functionally unspecialized elite, the value placed on learning and propagating an orthodox ideology that focuses on society and government, and the stress on hierarchy and the preeminent role of the state were all carried over from traditional society. Some of the more radical and extreme policies of the 1950s and 1960s, such as attacks on intellectuals and compulsory manual labor for bureaucrats, can only be understood as responses to deep-rooted traditional attitudes. The role of model workers and soldiers, as well as official concern for the content and form of popular literature and the arts, also reflects characteristically Chinese themes. In the mid-1980s a number of Chinese writers and political leaders identified the lingering hold of "feudal" attitudes, even within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as a major obstacle to modernization. They identified such phenomena as authoritarianism, unthinking obedience to leaders, deprecation of expert knowledge, lack of appreciation for law, and the failure to apply laws to leaders as "feudal" legacies that were not addressed in the early years of China's revolution.

Traditional Social Structure

Throughout the centuries some 80 to 90 percent of the Chinese population have been farmers. The farmers supported a small number of specialized craftsmen and traders and also an even smaller number of land- and office-holding elite families who ran the society. Although the peasant farmers and their families resembled counterparts in other societies, the traditional Chinese elite, often referred to in English as the gentry, had no peers in other societies. The national elite, who comprised perhaps 1 percent of China's population, had a number of distinctive features. They were dispersed across the country and often lived in rural areas, where they were the dominant figures on the local scene. Although they held land, which they rented to tenant farmers, they neither possessed large estates like European nobles nor held hereditary titles. They achieved their highest and most prestigious titles by their performance on the central government's triennial civil service examinations. These titles had to be earned by each generation, and since the examinations had strict numerical quotas, competition was fierce. Government officials were selected from those who passed the examinations, which tested for mastery of the Confucian Classics. Elite families, like everyone else in China, practiced partible inheritance, dividing the estate equally among all sons. The combination of partible inheritance and the competition for success in the examinations meant that rates of mobility into and out of the elite were relatively high for a traditional agrarian society.

The imperial state was staffed by a small civil bureaucracy. Civil officials were directly appointed and paid by the emperor and had to have passed the civil service examinations. Officials, who were supposed to owe their primary loyalty to the emperor, did not serve in their home provinces and were generally assigned to different places for each tour of duty. Although the salary of central officials was low, the positions offered great opportunities for personal enrichment, which was one reason that families competed so fiercely to pass the examinations and then obtain an appointment. For most officials, officeholding was not a lifetime career. They served one or a few tours and then returned to their home districts and families, where their wealth, prestige, and network of official contacts made them dominant figures on the local scene.

The Examination System

In late imperial China the status of local-level elites was ratified by contact with the central government, which maintained a monopoly on society's most prestigious titles. The examination system and associated methods of recruitment to the central bureaucracy were major mechanisms by which the central government captured and held the loyalty of local-level elites. Their loyalty, in turn, ensured the integration of the Chinese state and countered tendencies toward regional autonomy and the breakup of the centralized system. The examination system distributed its prizes according to provincial and prefectural quotas, which meant that imperial officials were recruited from the whole country, in numbers roughly proportional to a province's population. Elites all over China, even in the disadvantaged peripheral regions, had a chance at succeeding in the examinations and achieving the rewards of officeholding.

The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values. Even though only a small fraction (about 5 percent) of those who attempted the examinations passed them and received titles, the study, self-indoctrination, and hope of eventual success on a subsequent examination served to sustain the interest of those who took them. Those who failed to pass (most of the candidates at any single examination) did not lose wealth or local social standing; as dedicated believers in Confucian orthodoxy, they served, without the benefit of state appointments, as teachers, patrons of the arts, and managers of local projects, such as irrigation works, schools, or charitable foundations.

In late traditional China, then, education was valued in part because of its possible payoff in the examination system. The overall result of the examination system and its associated study was cultural uniformity--identification of the educated with national rather than regional goals and values. This self-conscious national identity underlies the nationalism so important in China's politics in the twentieth century.

Social Stratification

Traditional thought accepted social stratification as natural and considered most social groups to be organized on hierarchical principles. In the ideal Confucian scheme of social stratification, scholars were at the highest level of society, followed by farmers, then by artisans, with merchants and soldiers in last place.

In society at large, the highest and most prestigious positions were those of political generalists, such as members of the emperor's council or provincial governors. Experts, such as tax specialists or physicians, ranked below the ruling political generalists. Although commerce has been a major element of Chinese life since the early imperial period, and wealthy merchants have been major figures in Chinese cities, Confucianists disparaged merchants. Commercial success never won respect, and wealth based on commerce was subject to official taxes, fees, and even confiscation. Upward mobility by merchants was achieved by cultivating good relations with powerful officials and educating their sons in the hope they might become officials. Although dynasties were founded by military conquest, Confucian ideology derogated military skill. Common soldiers occupied a low position in society and were recruited from its lowest ranks. Chinese civilization, however, includes a significant military tradition, and generals and strategists usually were held in high esteem.

Most of China's population was composed of peasant farmers, whose basic role in supporting the rulers and the rest of society was recognized as a positive one in Confucian ideology. In practical terms, farming was considered a hard and insecure life and one that was best left if an opportunity was available.

In Chinese communities the factors generating prestige were education, abstention from manual labor, wealth expended on the arts and education, a large family with many sons, and community service and acts of charity. Another asset was an extensive personal network that permitted one to grant favors and make introductions and recommendations. There was no sharp line dividing the elite from the masses, and social mobility was possible and common.

Stratification and Families

Before 1950 the basic units of social stratification and social mobility were families. Although wealthy families were often quite large, with as many as thirty people in three or four generations living together on a common budget, most families contained five or six people. In socioeconomic terms, late traditional China was composed of a large number of small enterprises, perhaps as many as 100 million farms and small businesses. Each was operated by a family, which acted not only as a household but also as a commercial enterprise. The family head also was the trustee of the estate and manager of the family business. Families could own property, such as land or shops, and pass it on to the next generation.

About 80 percent of the population were peasant farmers, and land was the fundamental form of property. Although many peasant families owned no land, large estates were rare by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Peasant families might own all of the land they worked, or own some and rent some from a landowner, or rent all their land. Regardless of the form of tenure, the farm was managed as a unit, and the head of household was free to decide what to plant and how to use the labor of family members. Land could be bought and sold in small parcels, as well as mortgaged and rented in various forms of short-term and long-term contracts. The consequence was that in most villages peasant families occupied different steps on the ladder of stratification; they did not form a uniformly impoverished mass. At any time, peasant families were distinguished by the amount of land that they owned and worked compared with the percentage of their income they paid in rent. Over time, peasant families rose or fell in small steps as they bought land or were forced to sell it.

Most non-farm enterprises, commercial or craft, were similarly small businesses run by families. The basic units were owned by families, which took a long-term view of their prospects and attempted to shift resources and family personnel from occupation to occupation to adapt to economic circumstances. In all cases, the long-term goal of the head of the family was to ensure the survival and prosperity of the family and to pass the estate along to the next generation. The most common family strategy was to diversify the family's economic activities. Such strategies lay behind the large number of small-scale enterprises that characterized Chinese society before 1950. Farming and landowning were secure but not very profitable. Commerce and money-lending brought in greater returns but also carried greater risks. A successful farm family might invest in a shop or a food-processing business, while a successful restaurant owner might buy farmland, worked by a sharecropping peasant family, as a secure investment. All well-to- do families invested in the education of sons, with the hope of getting at least one son into a government job. The consequence was that it was difficult to draw a class line dividing landlords, merchants, and government workers or officials.

Social Mobility

Formal education provided the best and most respected avenue of upward mobility, and by the nineteenth century literacy rates in China were high for a traditional peasant society. Chances of receiving a good education were highest for the upper classes in and around coastal cities and lowest for the farmers of the interior. If schooling was not available, there were other avenues of mobility. Rural people could move to cities to seek their fortunes (and in some cases the cities were in Southeast Asia or the Americas). People could go into business, gamble on the market for perishable cash crops, try money-lending on a small scale or, as a long shot, join the army or a bandit group. Late traditional society offered alternate routes to worldly success and a number of ways to change one's position in society; but in all routes except education the chances of failure outweighed those of success.

In many cases, whether in business or banditry, success or failure depended to a great degree on luck. The combination of population pressure, the low rate of economic growth, natural disasters, and endemic war that afflicted the Chinese population in the first half of the twentieth century meant that many families lost their property, some starved, and almost all faced the probability of misfortune. From the perspective of individuals and individual families, it is likely that from 1850 to 1950 the chances of downward mobility increased and the ability to plan ahead with confidence decreased.


After the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, the uncertainty and risks facing small-scale socioeconomic units were replaced by an increase in the scale of organization and bureaucratization, with a consequent increase in predictability and personal security. The tens of millions of small enterprises were replaced by a much smaller number of larger enterprises, which were organized in a bureaucratic and hierarchical manner. Collectivization of land and nationalization of most private businesses meant that families no longer had estates to pass along. Long-term interests for families resided primarily with the work unit (collective farm, office, or factory) to which they belonged.

Mobility in most cases consisted of gaining administrative promotions within such work units. Many of the alternate routes to social mobility were closed off, and formal education continued to be the primary avenue of upward mobility. In villages the army offered the only reasonable alternative to a lifetime spent in the fields, and demobilized soldiers staffed much of the local administrative structure in rural areas. For the first time in Chinese history, the peasant masses were brought into direct contact with the national government and the ruling party, and national-level politics came to have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary people. The formerly local, small-scale, and fragmented power structure was replaced by a national and well-integrated structure, operating by bureaucratic norms. The unpredictable consequences of market forces were replaced by administrative allocation and changing economic policies enforced by the government bureaucracy.

The principal transformation of society took place during the 1950s in a series of major campaigns carried out by the party. In the countryside, an initial land reform redistributed some land from those families with an excess to those with none. This was quickly followed by a series of reforms that increased the scale of organization, from seasonal mutual aid teams (groups of jointsupport laborers from individual farming households), to permanent mutual aid teams, to voluntary agricultural cooperatives, to compulsory agricultural cooperatives, and finally to large people's communes. In each step, which came at roughly two-year intervals, the size of the unit was increased, and the role of inherited land or private ownership was decreased. By the early 1960s, an estimated 90 million family farms had been replaced by about 74,000 communes. During the same period, local governments took over commerce, and private traders, shops, and markets were replaced by supply and marketing cooperatives and the commercial bureaus of local government. In the cities, large industries were nationalized and craft enterprises were organized into large-scale cooperatives that became branches of local government. Many small shops and restaurants were closed down, and those that remained were under municipal management.

In both city and countryside, the 1950s saw a major expansion of the party and state bureaucracies, and many young people with relatively scarce secondary or college educations found secure white-collar jobs in the new organizations. The old society's set of formal associations--everything from lineages (clans), to irrigation cooperatives, to urban guilds and associations of persons from the same place of origin, all of which were private, small-scale, and usually devoted to a single purpose--were closed down. They were replaced by government bureaus or state-sponsored mass associations, and their parochial leaders were replaced by party members. The new institutions were run by party members and served as channels of information, communication, and political influence.

The basic pattern of contemporary society was established by 1960, and all changes since then, including the reforms of the early and mid-1980s, have represented only modifications and adjustments to the pattern. The pattern is cellular; most people belong to one large, all-embracing unit, such as a factory, government office, or village. The unit is run by party branch, operates (or should operate) under common administrative rules and procedures, and reflects the current policies of the party. The consequence has been that most aspects of social differentiation, stratification, mobility, and tensions are now played out within an institutional framework. Most of the questions about any individual's life and prospects can be answered by specifying the unit--the social cell--with which that individual is associated.


Although much of the social structure of modern China can be interpreted as reflecting basic drives for security and equality, qualities in short supply before 1950, not all organizations and units are alike or equal. There are four major axes of social differentiation in modern China. To some extent they overlap and reinforce each other, but each rests on distinct and separate grounds. The Work Place

Work units (danwei) belong to the state or to collectives. State-owned units, typically administrative offices, research institutes, and large factories, offer lifetime security, stable salaries, and benefits that include pensions and free health care. Collectives include the entire agricultural sector and many small-scale factories, repair shops, and village- or township-run factories, workshops, or service enterprises. Employees on the state payroll enjoy the best benefits modern China has to offer. The incomes of those in the collective sector are usually lower and depend on the performance of the enterprise. They generally lack health benefits or pensions, and the collective units usually do not provide housing or child-care facilities. In 1981 collective enterprises employed about 40 percent of the nonagricultural labor force, and most of the growth of employment since 1980 has come in this sector. Even though the growth since 1980 of individual businesses and small private enterprises, such as restaurants and repair services, has provided some individuals with substantial cash incomes, employment in the state sector remains most people's first choice. This reflects the public's recognition of that sector's superior material benefits as well as the traditional high prestige of government service.

"Security and equality" have been high priorities in modern China and have usually been offered within single work units. Because there is no nationwide insurance or social security system and because the income of work units varies, the actual level of benefits and the degree of equality (of incomes, housing, or opportunities for advancement) depend on the particular work unit with which individuals are affiliated. Work units are responsible for chronic invalids or old people without families, as well as for families confronted with the severe illness or injury of the breadwinner. Equality has always been sought within work units (so that all factory workers, for example, received the same basic wage, or members of a collective farm the same share of the harvest), and distinctions among units have not been publicly acknowledged. During the Cultural Revolution, however, great stress was placed on equality in an abstract or general sense and on its symbolic acting out. Administrators and intellectuals were compelled to do manual labor, and the uneducated and unskilled were held up as examples of revolutionary virtue.

In the mid-1980s many people on the lower fringes of administration were not on the state payroll, and it was at this broad, lower level that the distinction between government employees and nongovernment workers assumed the greatest importance. In the countryside, village heads were collectivesector workers, as were the teachers in village primary schools, while workers for township governments (and for all levels above them) and teachers in middle schools and universities were state employees. In the armed forces, the rank and file who served a three- to five-year enlistment at very low pay were considered citizens serving their military obligation rather than state employees. Officers, however, were state employees, and that distinction was far more significant than their rank. The distinction between state and collective-sector employment was one of the first things considered when people tried to find jobs for their children or a suitable marriage partner.

Communist Party Membership

Every unit in China, from the villages through the armed forces, is run by the party, which has a monopoly on political power. Party members are in a sense the heirs of the traditional gentry. They are a power-holding elite, dispersed over the whole country, and serve as intermediaries between their own communities or units and the nation. They are recruited from the population at large on universalistic grounds of "merit," and they claim authority by their mastery of an ideology that focuses on government and public order. The ideology is contained in books, and party members are expected to be familiar with the basic texts, to continue studying them throughout their careers, and to apply them in concrete situations.

The differences between the traditional elite and the party are obvious. Party members are supposed to be revolutionaries, be devoted to changing society rather than restoring it, come from and represent the peasants and workers, and be willing to submit themselves totally and unreservedly to the party. On the whole, party members are distinctly less bookish and more militaryoriented and outwardly egalitarian than traditional elites. Party members have been preferentially recruited from the poor peasantry of the interior, from the army, and from the ranks of industrial workers; intellectuals have usually found it difficult to enter the party. The party is represented in every village and every large or medium-sized enterprise in the country. The scope of its actions and concerns is much greater than that of its traditional predecessors.

Relatively speaking, there are more party members than there were traditional gentry. In 1986 the Chinese Communist Party had 44 million members in 2.6 million local party branches. This meant that about 8 percent of China's adult population belonged to the party. Not all party members hold state jobs: some hold village and township-level positions, and many armed forces enlisted personnel join the party during their service. (Indeed, a chance to join the party has been one of the major attractions of military service for peasant youth.)

Party members direct all enterprises and institutions and dominate public life and discussion. Anyone with ambitions to do more than his or her daily job or work in a narrow professional specialty must join the party. Membership is selective, and candidates must demonstrate their zeal, devotion to party principles, and willingness to make a total commitment to the party. Ideally, membership is a complete way of life, not a job, and selection for membership depends more on assessment of an individual's total personality and "moral" character than on specific qualifications or technical skills. While this could probably be said of all communist parties, Chinese Communist Party members certainly mirror China's traditional mandarins, who were political generalists rather than technical specialists. Party members are the intermediaries who link enterprises and communities with high-level structures, and they can belong to more than one organization, such as a factory and a municipal party body. Party membership is virtually a requirement for upward mobility or for opportunities to leave one's original work unit.

Urban-Rural Distinctions

In modern China, legal distinction is made between urban and rural dwellers, and movement from rural to urban status is difficult. Urban life is felt to be far preferable, and living standards and opportunities for such advantages as education are much better in the cities. This firm and absolute distinction, which had no precedent in traditional society, is the result of a set of administrative decisions and policies that have had major, if unintended, consequences for social organization. Modern Chinese society has been marked by an extraordinary degree of residential immobility, and internal migration and population movement have been limited by state control. For most of the period since 1958, there has been no legal way to move out of villages or from small cities to large cities. Although people have not inherited estates and private property, they have inherited rural or urban status, which has been a major determinant of living standards and life chances.

China's cities grew rapidly in the early and mid-1950s as rural people moved in to take advantage of the employment opportunities generated by economic growth and the expansion of heavy industry. The authorities became alarmed at this influx, both because of the cost of providing urban services (food supply, waste disposal) and because of the potential problems of unemployed or semi-employed migrants creating squatter settlements. Additionally, Chinese leaders held a certain anti-urban bias and tended to regard China's cities as unproductive. They accused city residents of living off the countryside and indulging in luxury consumption. Extolling large, smoking factories, they sought to engage the population in the manufacture of utilitarian commodities, like steel or trucks. The authorities demonstrated their bias against commerce and service trades by closing down many shops and markets. Since 1958 they have employed household registration and food rationing systems to control urban growth and general migration .

In the 1980s the distinction between urban and rural status grew mainly out of the food distribution and rationing system. Rural registrants were assumed to be growing their own staple foods, and there was no provision for state allocation of grain to them. The state monopolized the trade in grain; it collected grain in the countryside as a tax or as compulsory purchase and used it to supply its functionaries and the urban population. Urban status entitled one to purchase an allotment of grain, oil, and various other staple items. These were rationed, and a ration coupon as well as money was necessary to obtain grain legally. Ration coupons were good only in their own localities. The rationing system served several purposes. They included the fair distribution of scarce goods, prevention of private speculation in staple foods, and residence control. In addition, the police in cities kept household registration records and could make unannounced inspections, usually at night, looking for people who did not have legal permission to reside in a city. The controls have not been foolproof and have worked more effectively in times of shortages and strict political control.

In the 1980s the reasons for the administrative barriers around cities were fairly straightforward. Incomes and living standards in China's cities are two to three times higher than in the countryside. In addition, more urban dwellers have secure state jobs with their associated benefits. State investment has been concentrated in heavy industry, mostly urban, and agriculture and the rural sector have been left to their own devices, after meeting their tax obligations. The ironic consequence of a rural and peasant-based revolution has been a system that has acted, intentionally or not, to increase the social and economic gap between country and city.

Regional Distinctions

Regional distinctions in ways of life and standards of living were marked in traditional China and continue to have a strong influence on contemporary Chinese society. China's size, poorly developed transportation system, and state controls on migration mean that regional differences in income and in life chances remain large. Contemporary Chinese commentary, while certainly explicit on the role of class, has tended to ignore regional variation. This may reflect the characteristic emphasis on Chinese unity and uniformity, as well as the difficulty of fitting regional analysis into a Marxist framework. Nevertheless, both geographical position and a community's position in administrative and regional hierarchies act to limit income from sideline occupations, cash crops, village industries, and even such matters as marriage choices.

Incomes and educational standards in the 1980s were highest in the productive lower Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) Valley and central Guangdong Province regions and lowest in the semi-arid highlands of the northwest and the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, as they had been since the late nineteenth century. The lowest incomes and living standards were in the peripheral areas inhabited by minority nationalities. Within all regions, there were distinctions between urban cores, intermediate areas, and peripheries. Villages on the outskirts of major cities had more opportunities for production of cash crops such as vegetables, more opportunities in sideline occupations or subcontracting for urban factories, and easier access to urban services and amenities. Higher village incomes were reflected in better housing, higher school attendance, wellappointed village meeting halls, and a high level of farm and domestic mechanization. For settlements on the periphery, however, even if only a short distance from urban centers, transportation was difficult. Such settlements had changed little in appearance since the 1950s and devoted most of their land and work force to growing staple grains. Many children in these villages dropped out of school before completing primary education, as physical strength and endurance were more highly regarded than book learning.

There is clearly a degree of overlap in the four fields of social differentiation (work units, party membership, urban-rural distinctions, and regional distinctions). The top of the hierarchy is occupied by those who work in state organizations, belong to the party, live in a major city, and inhabit a prosperous region. Correspondingly, the least favored inhabitants are peasants whose villages are located in the remote parts of poor regions. What is most impressive about social differentiation in modern China is the extent to which key variables such as region and rural or urban status are ascribed, and not easily changed by individual effort. This is the negative side of the security and stability that attracted China's populace to the party and its programs.


The cellular structure of contemporary Chinese society and the Chinese Communist Party's single-party rule mean that almost all social organizations share common characteristics. The same general description (an all-embracing social unit, whose members are assigned to it for life and which is organized on bureaucratic principles, subordinate to higher administrative levels, and managed by a branch of the party) applies to villages, schools, administrative offices, factories, or army units. All of these are work units.

Work Units

In some ways, Chinese work units (danwei) resemble the large-scale bureaucratic organizations that employ most people in economically developed societies. The unit is functionally specialized, producing a single product or service, and is internally organized into functional departments, with employees classified and rewarded according to their work skills. Professional managers run the organization, enforce internal regulations and work rules, and negotiate with other work units and administrative superiors.

Chinese work units, however, have many distinctive qualities. Workers usually belong to the same unit for their entire working life. The degree of commitment to the unit and the extent to which the unit affects many aspects of the individual worker's life have no parallel in other societies. Chinese work units are highly corporate, closed, permanent, and all-embracing groups. In most cases, people are either born into their units (villages count as units) or are assigned to them when they enter the work force.

Units supply their members with much more than a wage. Housing in the cities is usually controlled and assigned by work units. Consequently, one's neighbors are often one's workmates. If childcare facilities are available, they will most often be provided by the work unit. Recreation facilities will be provided by the work unit. Political study is carried out with one's workmates. In the cities many people meet prospective spouses either at work or through the introduction of fellow workers. For most people, social mobility takes the form of working their way up within the organization.

If goods are in short supply, they will be rationed through work units. This was the case with bicycles and sewing machines in the 1970s. The same can apply to babies. As part of China's planned birth policy, unit supervisors monitor the fertility of married women and may decide whose turn it is to have a baby. At the other end of the life cycle, pensions and funeral expenses are provided by work units. Travel to another city usually requires the written permission of one's work unit before a ticket can be purchased or food coupons for one's destination issued. Every unit is managed by party members, who are responsible for personnel matters. Outside the farm sector, a written dossier is kept for every member of a unit. Units are often physically distinct, occupying walled compounds whose exits are monitored by gatekeepers. The unit is thus a total community, if not a total institution, and unit membership is the single most significant aspect of individual identity in contemporary China.

Since the 1950s the individual's political life too has been centered in the work unit. Political campaigns have meant endless meetings and rallies within the unit, and when individuals were to be criticized or condemned for political deviation or bad class origins, it was done within the work unit, by fellow workers. In the post-Mao Zedong era, many people were working side by side with others whom they had publicly condemned, humiliated, or physically beaten fifteen or twenty years before. Much of the quality of life within a unit derives from the long-term nature of membership and human relations and from the impossibility of leaving. Members seem most often to aim for affable but somewhat distant ties of "comradeship" with each other, reserving intimate friendships for a few whom they have known since childhood or schooldays.

The work-unit system, with its lifetime membership--sometimes referred to as the "iron rice bowl"--and lack of job mobility, is unique to contemporary China. It was developed during the 1950s and early 1960s with little discussion or publicity. Its origins are obscure; it most likely arose through the efforts of party cadres whose background was rural and whose experience was largely in the army and in the disciplined and all-embracing life of party branches.

The special characteristics of the Chinese work unit--such as its control over the work and lives of its members and its strict subordination to administrative superiors who control the resources necessary to its operation--make the unit an insular, closed entity. Units are subject to various administrative hierarchies; reports go up and orders come down. The Chinese Communist Party, as a nationwide body, links all units and, in theory, monopolizes channels of communication and command. Vertical, command relations seem to work quite effectively, and the degree of local compliance with the orders of superior bodies is impressive. Conversely, horizontal relations with other units are often weak and tenuous, presenting a problem especially for the economy.

Wages and Benefits

Much of any worker's total compensation (wages, benefits, and official and unofficial perquisites) is determined by membership in a particular work unit. There is considerable variation in the benefits associated with different work units. Although the wage structure is quite egalitarian when compared with those of other countries, wages are only part of the picture. Many of the limited goods available in China cannot be bought for money. Rather, they are available only to certain favored work units. Housing is an obvious example. Many collective enterprises may have no housing at all or offer only rudimentary dormitories for young, unmarried workers.

High-level administrative cadres and military officers may earn three or four times more than ordinary workers; in addition, the government often grants them superior housing, the unlimited use of official automobiles and drivers, access to the best medical care in the country, opportunities for travel and vacations, and the right to purchase rare consumer goods either at elite shops or through special channels. Although China is a socialist state, it is not exactly a welfare state. Pensions, medical benefits, and survivors' benefits are provided through work units and come out of the unit's budget. The amount and nature of benefits may vary from unit to unit. The state, through local government bodies, does provide some minimal welfare benefits, but only to those with no unit benefits or family members able to support them.

Retirees who have put in twenty-five or thirty years in a state-run factory or a central government office can expect a steady pension, most often at about 70 percent of their salary, and often continue to live in unit housing, especially if they have no grown children with whom they can live. In many cases, workers have been able to retire and have their children replace them. In other cases, some large state enterprises have started smaller sideline or subcontracting enterprises specifically to provide employment for the grown children of their workers. In contrast, peasants and those employed in collective enterprises generally receive no pensions and must depend on family members for support.

Informal Mechanisms of Exchange

In China formal exchanges of everything from goods and services to information are expected to go through official channels, under the supervision of bureaucrats. Administrative channels, however, are widely acknowledged to be inadequate and subject to inordinate delays. People respond by using and developing informal mechanisms of exchange and coordination. The most general term for such informal relations is guanxi (personal connections). Such ties are the affair of individuals rather than institutions and depend on the mutually beneficial exchange of favors, services, introductions, and so on. In China such ties are created or cultivated through invitations to meals and presentation of gifts.

Personal relations are morally and legally ambiguous, existing in a gray and ill-defined zone. In some cases, personal connections involve corruption and favoritism, as when powerful cadres "go through the back door" to win admission to college or university for their children or to place their relatives or clients in secure, state-sector jobs. In other cases, though, the use of such contacts is absolutely necessary for the survival of enterprises. Most Chinese factories, for example, employ full-time "purchasing agents," whose task is to procure essential supplies that are not available through the cumbersome state allocation system. As the economic reforms of the early 1980s have expanded the scope of market exchanges and the ability of enterprises to make their own decisions on what to produce, the role of brokers and agents of all sorts has expanded. In the countryside, village and township cadres often act as brokers, finding markets for the commodities produced by specialized farming households and tracking down scarce inputs, such as fertilizer or fuel or spare parts for agricultural machinery.

Although the form and operation of guanxi networks clearly has traditional roots, as well as parallels in overseas Chinese societies and in Hong Kong and Taiwan, they are not simply inheritances or holdovers from the traditional past. Personal connections and informal exchanges are a basic part of modern Chinese society, are essential to its regular functioning, and are in many ways a response to the specific political and economic structures of that society. They thrive in the absence of formal, public, and overt means of exchange and may be considered a response to scarcity and to blocked official channels of communication. In modern China, those with the most extensive networks of personal connections are cadres and party members, who have both the opportunity to meet people outside their work units and the power to do favors.


Collectivization and Class Status

The first major action to alter village society was the land reform of the late 1940s and early 1950s, in which the party sent work teams to every village to carry out its land reform policy. This in itself was an unprecedented display of administrative and political power. The land reform had several related goals. The work teams were to redistribute some (though not all) land from the wealthier families or land-owning trusts to the poorest segments of the population and so to effect a more equitable distribution of the basic means of production; to overthrow the village elites, who might be expected to oppose the party and its programs; to recruit new village leaders from among those who demonstrated the most commitment to the party's goals; and to teach everyone to think in terms of class status rather than kinship group or patron-client ties. In pursuit of the last goal, the party work teams convened extensive series of meetings, and they classified all the village families either as landlords, rich peasants, middle peasants, or poor peasants. These labels, based on family landholdings and overall economic position roughly between 1945 and 1950, became a permanent and hereditary part of every family's identity and, as late as 1980, still affected, for example, such things as chances for admission to the armed forces, colleges, universities, and local administrative posts and even marriage prospects.

The collectivization of agriculture was essentially completed with the establishment of the people's communes in 1958. Communes were large, embracing scores of villages. They were intended to be multipurpose organizations, combining economic and local administrative functions. Under the commune system the household remained the basic unit of consumption, and some differences in standards of living remained, although they were not as marked as they had been before land reform. Under such a system, however, upward mobility required becoming a team or commune cadre or obtaining a scarce technical position such as a truck driver's.

<>The Role of the Household
<>Consequences of Rural Reform
<>Regulations and Favors
<>Family and Household
<>Community Structure

China - Decollectivization


Under the collectivized system, grain production kept up with population growth (China's population nearly doubled from 1950 to 1980), and the rural population was guaranteed a secure but low level of subsistence. But the collectivized system seemed to offer few possibilities for rapid economic growth. There was some discontent with a system that relied so heavily on orders from above and made so little allowance for local conditions or local initiative. In the late 1970s, administrators in provincial-level units with extensive regions of low yields and consequent low standards of living began experimenting with new forms of tenure and production. In most cases, these took the form of breaking up the collective production team, contracting with individual households to work assigned portions of collective land, and expanding the variety of crops or livestock that could be produced. The experiments were deemed successful and popular, and they soon spread to all districts. By the winter of 1982-83, the people's communes were abolished; they were replaced by administrative townships and a number of specialized teams or businesses that often leased such collective assets as tractors and provided services for money.

The agricultural reforms of the early 1980s led to a confusingly large number of new production arrangements and contracts. Underlying the variability of administrative and contractual forms were several basic principles and trends. In the first place, land, the fundamental means of production, remained collective property. It was leased, allocated, or contracted to individual households, but the households did not own the land and could not transfer it to other households. The household became, in most cases, the basic economic unit and was responsible for its own production and losses. Most economic activity was arranged through contracts, which typically secured promises to provide a certain amount of a commodity or sum of money to the township government in return for the use of land, or workshops, or tractors.

The goal of the contracting system was to increase efficiency in the use of resources and to tap peasant initiative. The rigid requirement that all villages produce grain was replaced by recognition of the advantages of specialization and exchange, as well as a much greater role for markets. Some "specialized households" devoted themselves entirely to production of cash crops or provision of services and reaped large rewards. The overall picture was one of increasing specialization, differentiation, and exchange in the rural economy and in society in general. Rural incomes increased rapidly, in part because the state substantially increased the prices it paid for staple crops and in part because of economic growth stimulated by the expansion of markets and the rediscovery of comparative advantage.

China - The Role of the Household

Decollectivization increased the options available to individual households and made household heads increasingly responsible for the economic success of their households. In 1987, for example, it was legally possible to leave the village and move into a nearby town to work in a small factory, open a noodle stand, or set up a machine repair business. Farmers, however, still could not legally move into medium-sized or large cities. The Chinese press reported an increased appreciation in the countryside for education and an increased desire for agriculturally oriented newspapers and journals, as well as clearly written manuals on such profitable trades as rabbit-raising and beekeeping. As specialization and division of labor increased, along with increasingly visible differences in income and living standards, it became more difficult to encompass most of the rural population in a few large categories. During the early 1980s, the pace of economic and social change in rural China was rapid, and the people caught up in the change had difficulty making sense of the process.

China - Consequences of Rural Reform

The state retained both its powers and its role in the rural economy in the 1980s. Decollectivization, like the collectivization of the 1950s, was directed from the top down. Sometimes, apparently, it was imposed on communities that had been content with their collective methods. But in permitting households and communities greater leeway to decide what to produce and in allowing the growth of rural markets and small-scale industries, the state stepped back from the close supervision and mandatory quotas of the 1960s and 1970s.

Decollectivization obviated the supervisory functions of lowlevel cadres, who no longer needed to oversee work on the collective fields. Some cadres became full-time administrators in township offices, and others took advantage of the reforms by establishing specialized production households or by leasing collective property at favorable rates. Former cadres, with their networks of connections and familiarity with administrative procedures, were in a better position than ordinary farmers to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the growth of markets and commercial activity. Even those cadres not wholly devoted to increasing their own families' income found that to serve their fellow villagers as expected it was necessary to act as entrepreneurs. Village-level cadres in the mid-1980s were functioning less as overseers and more as extension agents and marketing consultants.

By 1987 rural society was more open and diverse than in the 1960s and 1970s, and the rigid collective units of that period, which had reflected the state's overwhelming concern for security, had been replaced by networks and clusters of smaller units. The new, looser structure demonstrated the priority placed on efficiency and economic growth. Basic security, in the sense of an adequate supply of food and guarantees of support for the disabled, orphaned, or aged, was taken for granted. Less than half of China's population remembered the insecurity and risks of pre-1950 society, but the costs and inefficiencies of the collective system were fresh in their minds. Increased specialization and division of labor were trends not likely to be reversed. In the rural areas the significance of the work unit appeared to have diminished, although people still lived in villages, and the actions of low-level administrative cadres still affected ordinary farmers or petty traders in immediate ways.

The state and its officials still dominated the economy, controlled supplies of essential goods, taxed and regulated businesses and markets, and awarded contracts. The stratification system of the Maoist period had been based on a hierarchy of functionally unspecialized cadres directing the labors of a fairly uniform mass of peasants. It was replaced in the 1980s by a new elite of economically specialized households and entrepreneurs who had managed to come to terms with the administrative cadres who controlled access to many of the resources necessary for economic success. Local cadres still had the power to impose fees, taxes, and all manner of exactions. The norms of the new system were not clear, and the economic and social system continued to change in response to the rapid growth of rural commerce and industry and to national economic policies and reforms.

China - Regulations and Favors

Increased commercial activity produced a high degree of normative ambiguity, especially in areas like central Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces, where rural economic growth was fastest. Neither the proper role of local officials nor the rights and obligations of new entrepreneurs or traders were clear. The line between the normal use of personal contacts and hospitality and extraordinary and criminal favoritism and corruption was ambiguous. There were hints of the development of a system of patron-client ties, in which administrative cadres granted favors to ordinary farmers in return for support, esteem, and an occasional gift. The increased number of corruption cases reported in the Chinese press and the widespread assumption that the decollectivization and rural economic reforms had led to growing corruption probably reflected both the increased opportunities for deals and favors of all sorts and the ambiguous nature of many of the transactions and relationships. The party's repeated calls for improved "socialist spiritual civilization" and the attempts of the central authorities both to create a system of civil law and to foster respect for it can be interpreted as responses to the problem. On the local level, where cadres and entrepreneurs were engaged in constant negotiation on the rules of their game, the problem was presumably being addressed in a more straightforward fashion.

China - Family and Household

In past Chinese society, the family provided every individual's support, livelihood, and long-term security. Today the state guarantees such security to those with no families to provide for them, and families and work units share long-term responsibility for the individual. The role of families has changed, but they remain important, especially in the countryside. Family members are bound, in law and custom, to support their aged or disabled members. The state, acting through work units, provides support and benefits only when families cannot. Households routinely pool income, and any individual's standard of living depends on the number of household wage earners and the number of dependents. In both cities and villages, the highest incomes usually are earned by households with several wage earners, such as unmarried adult sons or daughters.

In late traditional society, family size and structural complexity varied directly with class. Rural landlords and government officials had the largest families, poor peasants the smallest. The poorest segment of the population, landless laborers, could not afford to marry and start families. The need to provide for old age and the general association between the numbers of sons surviving to adulthood and long-term family success motivated individuals to create various nonstandard family forms. Couples who produced no sons, or no children at all, adopted or purchased infants outright. Families with daughters but no sons tried to find men willing to marry their daughters and move into their families, abandoning their original families and sometimes even their original surnames. Families with daughters but no property to attract a son-in-law were sometimes forced to sell their daughters as concubines or prostitutes. The variation in family size and complexity was the result of variation in class position and of the dual role of the household as both family and economic enterprise.

In contemporary society, rural families no longer own land or pass it down to the next generation. They may, however, own and transmit houses. Rural families pay medical expenses and school fees for their children. Under the people's commune system in force from 1958 to 1982, the income of a peasant family depended directly on the number of laborers it contributed to the collective fields. This, combined with concern over the level of support for the aged or disabled provided by the collective unit, encouraged peasants to have many sons. Under the agricultural reforms that began in the late 1970s, households took on an increased and more responsible economic role. The labor of family members is still the primary determinant of income. But rural economic growth and commercialization increasingly have rewarded managerial and technical skills and have made unskilled farm labor less desirable. As long as this economic trend continues in the countryside in the late 1980s, peasant families are likely to opt for fewer but better educated children.

The consequence of the general changes in China's economy and the greater separation of families and economic enterprises has been a greater standardization of family forms since 1950. In 1987 most families approximated the middle peasant (a peasant owning some land) norm of the past. Such a family consisted of five or six people and was based on marriage between an adult son and an adult woman who moved into her husband's family. The variant family forms--either the very large and complex or those based on minor, nonstandard forms of marriage--were much less common. The state had outlawed concubinage, child betrothal, and the sale of infants or females, all of which were formerly practiced, though not common. Increased life expectancy meant that a greater proportion of infants survived to adulthood and that more adults lived into their sixties or seventies. More rural families were able to achieve the traditional goal of a three-generation family in the 1980s. There were fewer orphans and young or middle-aged widows or widowers. Far fewer men were forced to retain lifelong single status. Divorce, although possible, was rare, and families were stable, on-going units.

A number of traditional attitudes toward the family have survived without being questioned. It is taken for granted that everyone should marry, and marriage remains part of the definition of normal adult status. Marriage is expected to be permanent. That marriage requires a woman to move into her husband's family and to become a daughter-in-law as well as a wife is still largely accepted. The norm of patrilineal descent and the assumption that it is sons who bear the primary responsibility for their aged parents remain. The party and government have devoted great effort to controlling the number of births and have attempted to limit the number of children per couple. But the authorities have not attempted to control population growth by suggesting that some people should not marry at all.

In the past, kinship principles were extended beyond the domestic group and were used to form large-scale groups, such as lineages. Lineages were quite distinct from families; they were essentially corporate economic-political groups. They controlled land and, in some areas of China, dominated whole villages and sets of villages and held title to most of the farmland. Like most other late traditional associations, lineages were dominated by wealthy and educated elites. Ordinary peasants paid as much of their crop to their lineage group as they might have to a landlord. The Communists denounced these organizations as feudal systems by means of which landlords exploited others. The lineages were suppressed in the early 1950s and their land confiscated and redistributed in the land reform. Communal worship of distant lineage ancestors lost much of its justification with the dissolution of the lineage estate and was easily suppressed over the next several years. Domestic ancestor worship, in which members of a single family worshiped and memorialized their immediate ancestors, continued at least until 1966 and 1967, in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, when Red Guards destroyed altars and ancestral tablets. In 1987 the party was still condemning ancestor worship as superstitious but had made little effort to end it.

China - Marriage

The Marriage Law of 1950 guarantees everyone the freedom to choose his or her marriage partner. Nevertheless, especially in the countryside, there are few opportunities to meet potential mates. Rural China offers little privacy for courtship, and in villages there is little public tolerance for flirting or even extended conversation between unmarried men and women. Introductions and gobetweens continue to play a major role in the arrangement of marriages. In most cases each of the young people, and their parents, has an effective veto over any proposed match.

In the past, marriage was seen as the concern of families as well as of the two parties to the match. Families united by marriage were expected to be of equivalent status, or the groom's family to be of somewhat higher status. This aspect of marriage patterns has continued while the definitions of status have changed. Because inherited wealth has been eliminated as a significant factor, evaluation has shifted to estimates of earning power and future prosperity. The most desirable husbands have been administrative cadres, party members, and employees of large state enterprises. Conversely, men from poor villages have had difficulty finding wives. From the early 1950s to the late 1970s, when hereditary class labels were very significant, anyone with a "counterrevolutionary" background, that is, anyone previously identified with the landlord or even rich peasant class, was a bad prospect for marriage. Such pariahs often had no choice but to marry the offspring of other families with "bad" class backgrounds. At the other end of the social scale, there appears to be a high level of intermarriage among the children of high-level cadres.

China - Community Structure

Most rural Chinese live in one of some 900,000 villages, which have an average population of from 1,000 to 2,000 people. Villages have never been self-contained, self-sufficient units, and the social world of Chinese peasants has extended beyond their home villages. Almost all new wives come into a village from other settlements, and daughters marry out. All villagers have close kinship ties with families in other villages, and marriage gobetweens shuttle from village to village.

Before 1950 clusters of villages centered on small market towns that linked them to the wider economy and society. Most peasants were only a few hours' walk or less from a market town, which provided not only opportunities to buy and sell but also opportunities for entertainment, information, social life, and a host of specialized services. The villages around a market formed a social unit that, although less immediately visible than the villages, was equally significant.

From the early 1950s on, China's revolutionary government made great efforts to put the state and its ideology into direct contact with the villages and to sweep aside the intermediaries and brokers who had traditionally interpreted central policies and national values for villagers. The state and the party were generally successful, establishing unprecedented degrees of political and ideological integration of villages into the state and of villagelevel awareness of state policies and political goals.

The unintended consequence of the economic and political policies of the 1950s and 1960s was to increase the closed, corporate quality of China's villages and to narrow the social horizons of villagers. Land reform and the reorganization of villages as subunits of people's communes meant that villages became collective landholding units and had clear boundaries between their lands and those of adjacent villages. Central direction of labor on collective fields made the former practices of swapping labor between villages impossible. The household registration and rationing systems confined villagers to their home settlements and made it impossible for them to seek their fortune elsewhere. Cooperation with fellow villagers and good relations with village leaders became even more important than they had been in the past. The suppression of rural markets, which accompanied the drive for self-sufficiency in grain production and other economic activities, had severe social as well as economic consequences. Most peasants had neither reason nor opportunity for regular trips to town, and their opportunities for exchange and cooperation with residents of other villages were diminished. Villages became work units, with all that that implied.

Decollectivization in the early 1980s resulted in the revival of rural marketing, and a limited relaxation of controls on outmigration opened villages and diminished the social boundaries around them. The social world of peasants expanded, and the larger marketing community took on more significance as that of the village proper was diminished. Village membership, once the single most important determinant of an individual's circumstances, became only one of a number of significant factors, which also included occupation, personal connections, and managerial talent.


There is considerable confusion in both Chinese and foreign sources over definitions of urban places and hence considerable variation in estimates of China's urban population. The problem of determining the size of the urban population reflects inconsistent and changing administrative categories; the distinction between rural and urban household registry and between categories of settlements; the practice of placing suburban or rural districts under the administration of municipal governments; and the differences in the status accorded to small towns. In sociological terms, urban refers to an area characterized by a relatively high degree of specialization in occupational roles, many special-purpose institutions, and uniform treatment of people in impersonal settings. In this sense, a Chinese market town is more urban than a village, and settlements become more urban as they grow in size and economic complexity. Special municipalities like Beijing and Shanghai have the highest degree of division of labor and the most specialized institutions.

Distinctive Features

Legal status as an urban dweller in China is prized. As a result of various state policies and practices, contemporary Chinese urban society has a distinctive character, and life in Chinese cities differs in many ways from that in cities in otherwise comparable developing societies. The most consequential policies have been the household registration system, the legal barriers to migration, the fostering of the allembracing work unit, and the restriction of commerce and markets, including the housing market. In many ways, the weight of official control and supervision is felt more in the cities, whose administrators are concerned with controlling the population and do so through a dual administrative hierarchy. The two principles on which these control structures are based are locality and occupation. Household registers are maintained by the police, whose presence is much stronger in the cities than in the countryside. Cities are subdivided into districts, wards, and finally into small units of some fifteen to thirty households, such as all those in one apartment building or on a small lane. For those employed in large organizations, the work unit either is coterminous with the residential unit or takes precedence over it; for those employed in small collective enterprises or neighborhood shops, the residential committee is their unit of registration and provides a range of services.

The control of housing by work units and local governments and the absence of a housing market have led to a high degree of residential stability. Most urban residents have spent decades in the same house or apartment. For this reason, urban neighborhoods are closely knit, which in turn contributes to the generally low level of crime in Chinese cities.

Since the early 1950s, the party leadership has consistently made rapid industrialization a primary goal and, to this end, has generally favored investment in heavy industry over consumption. For cities, these policies have meant an expansion of factories and industrial employment, along with a very low level of spending in such "nonproductive" areas as housing or urban transit systems. The emphasis on production, and heavy industry and the discouragement of consumption and exchange, along with state takeovers of commerce and the service sector, led to cities having many factories but no peddlers, snack stalls, or entertainment districts. In the 1950s and early 1960s, major efforts were made to bring women into the paid labor force. This served the goals of increasing production and achieving sexual equality through equal participation in productive labor, a classic Marxist remedy for sexual inequality. By 1987 almost all young and middle-aged women in the cities worked outside the home.

Chinese cities, in contrast to those in many developing countries, contain a high proportion of workers in factories and offices and a low proportion of workers in the service sector. Workers enjoy a high level of job security but receive low wages. Between 1963 and 1977 most wages were frozen, and promotions and raises were very rare. Even with the restoration of material incentives in the late 1970s, two general wage raises in the 1980s, and increased opportunities for bonuses and promotions, wages remained low and increased primarily with seniority. As in most parts of the world, one reason that so many Chinese urban women are in the work force is that one income is not enough to support a family.

In the 1980s it was possible to purchase such consumer durables as television sets and bicycles on the market, but housing remained scarce and subject to allocation by work units or municipal housing bureaus. Although housing was poor and crowded, Chinese neighborhoods had improved greatly over the slum conditions that existed before 1950. Most people were gainfully employed at secure if low-paying jobs; the municipal government provided a minimal level of services and utilities (water and sanitation); the streets were fairly clean and orderly; and the crime rate was low.

<>Families and Marriage
<>Providing for the Next Generation
<>Opportunities and Competition
<>Examinations, Hereditary Transmission of Jobs, and Connections

China - Housing

Chinese urban dwellers, as a category, receive subsidies on food, housing, and transportation services. In the 1980s such subsidies came to occupy an increasingly large share of the state budget. Even with subsidies, food purchases took the largest share of household budgets. Rents, in contrast, were very low, seldom taking more than 5 percent of household income even with water and electricity charges included. Little new housing was built between 1950 and 1980, and although more urban housing was erected between 1980 and 1985 than in the previous thirty years, housing remained in short supply. Entire families often lived in one room and shared cooking and toilet facilities with other families. Marriages were sometimes delayed until housing became available from the municipal office or the work unit. Young people were expected to live with their parents at least until marriage. This was consonant with traditional family patterns but was also reinforced by the shortage of housing. The pattern of long-term residential stability and great pressure on the stock of available housing meant that city neighborhoods were less stratified by occupation or income than those of many other countries. Not only were incomes more egalitarian to begin with, but more money could not buy a bigger or better equipped apartment. Managers and technical specialists lived under much the same conditions as manual workers, often in the same buildings. While many urban families enjoyed higher real incomes in the 1980s, they usually could not translate those incomes into better housing, as peasants could.

The combination of full adult employment with a minimal service sector put heavy burdens on urban households. By the 1980s both the public and the government recognized the burdens on urban households and the associated drain on the energies of workers, managers, and professionals. After 1985 more money was budgeted for housing and such municipal services as piped-in cooking gas. But state encouragement of the private or collective service sector had greater effect. Unemployed urban youth were permitted and sometimes advised to set up small restaurants or service establishments. Peasants were permitted to come into cities to sell produce or local products. Municipal authorities seemed to ignore the movement of substantial numbers of rural people into the urban service sector as peddlers, carpenters, and other skilled workers or, occasionally, as domestic workers. In the mid-1980s the Chinese press reported an influx of teenage girls from the country seeking short-term work as housekeepers or nannies. Like other rural migrants, they usually used ties with relatives or fellow villagers resident in the city to find positions.

China - Families and Marriage

Urban families differ from their rural counterparts primarily in being composed largely of wage earners who look to their work units for the housing, old-age security, and opportunities for a better life that in the countryside are still the responsibility of the family. With the exception of those employed in the recently revived urban service sector (restaurants, tailoring, or repair shops) who sometimes operate family businesses, urban families do not combine family and enterprise in the manner of peasant families. Urban families usually have multiple wage earners, but children do not bring in extra income or wages as readily as in the countryside. Urban families are generally smaller than their rural counterparts, and, in a reversal of traditional patterns, it is the highest level managers and cadres who have the smallest families. Late marriages and one or two children are characteristic of urban managerial and professional groups. As in the past, elite family forms are being promoted as the model for everyone.

Three-generation families are not uncommon in cities, and a healthy grandparent is probably the ideal solution to the childcare and housework problems of most families. About as many young children are cared for by a grandparent as are enrolled in a workunit nursery or kindergarten, institutions that are far from universal. Decisions on where a newly married couple is to live often depend on the availability of housing. Couples most often establish their own household, frequently move in with the husband's parents, or, much less often, may move in with the wife's parents. Both the state and the society expect children to look after their aged parents. In addition, a retired worker from a state enterprise will have a pension and often a relatively desirable apartment as well. Under these circumstances elderly people are assets to a family. Those urban families employing unregistered maids from the countryside are most likely those without healthy grandparents.

Families play less of a role in marriage choices in cities than in the countryside, at least in part because the family itself is not the unit promising long-term security and benefits to its members. By the late 1970s, perhaps half of all urban marriages were the result of introductions by workmates, relatives, or parents. The marriage age in cities has been later than that in the countryside, which reflects greater compliance with state rules and guidelines as well as social and economic factors common to many other countries. People in cities and those with secondary and postsecondary education or professional jobs tend to marry later than farmers. In China it is felt that marriage is appropriate only for those who have jobs and thus are in a position to be full members of society. Peasant youth, who have an automatic claim on a share of the collective fields and the family house, qualify, but college students or urban youths who are "waiting for assignment" to a lifetime job do not. In any case, work-unit approval is necessary for marriage.

Urban weddings are usually smaller and more subdued than their rural counterparts, which reflects the diminished role of the families in the process. More guests will be workmates or friends of the bride and groom than distant kin or associates of the parents. The wedding ceremony focuses on the bride and groom as a couple rather than on their status as members of families. Similarly, a brief honeymoon trip rather than a three-day celebration in which the entire village plays a part is an increasingly common practice. Long engagements are common in cities, sometimes because the couple is waiting for housing to become available.

China - Providing for the Next Generation

Although Chinese families continue to be marked by respect for parents and a substantial degree of filial subordination, parents have weighty obligations toward their children as well. Children are obliged to support parents in their old age, and parents are obliged to give their children as favorable a place in the world as they can. In the past this meant leaving them property and providing the best education or training possible. For most rural parents today the choice of a career for their children is not a major issue. Most children of peasants will be peasants like their parents, and the highest realistic ambition is a position as a lowlevel cadre or teacher or perhaps a technician. The primary determinant of a rural child's status and well-being remains his or her family, which is one reason for the intense concern with the marriage choices of sons and daughters and for the greater degree of parental involvement in those decisions.

Urban parents are less concerned with whom their children marry but are more concerned with their education and eventual careers. Urban parents can expect to leave their children very little in the way of property, but they do their best to prepare them for secure and desirable jobs in the state sector. The difficulty is that such jobs are limited, competition is intense, and the criteria for entry have changed radically several times since the early 1950s. Many of the dynamics of urban society revolve around the issue of job allocation and the attempts of parents in the better-off segments of society to transmit their favored position to their children. The allocation of scarce and desirable goods, in this case jobs, is a political issue and one that has been endemic since the late 1950s. These questions lie behind the changes in educational policy, the attempts in the 1960s and 1970s to settle urban youth in the countryside, the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, and the post-1980 encouragement of small-scale private and collective commerce and service occupations in the cities. All are attempts to solve the problem, and each attempt has its own costs and drawbacks.

China - Opportunities and Competition

Cities, by definition, are places with a high degree of occupational specialization and division of labor. They are places offering their inhabitants a range of occupational choice and also, to the degree that some occupations are seen as better than others, competition for the better occupations. Cities also provide the training for specialized occupations, either in schools or on the job.

In China there is a cultural pattern stressing individual achievement and upward mobility. These are best attained through formal education and are bound up with the mutual expectations and obligations of parents and children. There is also a social structure in which a single, bureaucratic framework defines desirable positions, that is, managerial or professional jobs in the state sector or secure jobs in state factories. Banned migration, lifetime employment, egalitarian wage structures, and the insular nature of work units were intended by the state, at least in part, to curtail individual competition. Nevertheless, some jobs are still seen as preferable to others, and it is urbanites and their children who have the greatest opportunities to compete for scarce jobs. The question for most families is how individuals are selected and allocated to those positions. The lifetime tenure of most jobs and the firm control of job allocation by the party make these central issues for parents in the favored groups and for local authorities and party organizations.

Between the early 1950s and mid-1980s, policies on recruitment of personnel and their allocation to desirable jobs changed several times. As the costs and drawbacks of each method became apparent, pressure mounted to change the policy. In the early and mid-1950s, the problem was not acute. State offices were expanding rapidly, and there were more positions than people qualified to fill them. Peasants moved into cities and found employment in the expanding industrial sector. Most of those who staffed the new bureaucratic sectors were young and would not begin to retire until the 1980s and 1990s. Those who graduated from secondary schools or universities, however, or were discharged from the armed forces in the late 1950s and early 1960s found few jobs of the sort they were qualified for or had expected to hold.

Attempts to manage the competition for secure jobs were among the many causes of the radical, utopian policies of the period from 1962 to 1976. Among these, the administrative barriers erected between cities and countryside and the confinement of peasants and their children to their villages served to diminish competition and perhaps to lower unrealistic expectations. Wage freezes and the rationing of both staples and scarce consumer goods in cities attempted to diminish stratification and hence competition. The focusing of attention on the sufferings and egalitarian communal traditions of the past, which was so prominent in Maoist rhetoric and replaced the future orientation of the 1950s, in part diverted attention from frustrations with the present. Tensions were most acute within the education system, which served, as it does in most societies, to sort children and select those who would go on to managerial and professional jobs. It was for this reason that the Cultural Revolution focused so negatively on the education system. Because of the rising competition in the schools and for the jobs to which schooling could lead, it became increasingly evident that those who did best in school were the children of the "bourgeoisie" and urban professional groups rather than the children of workers and peasants.

Cultural Revolution-era policies responded with public deprecation of schooling and expertise, including closing of all schools for a year or more and of universities for nearly a decade, exaltation of on-the-job training and of political motivation over expertise, and preferential treatment for workers and peasant youth. Educated urban youth, most of whom came from "bourgeois" families, were persuaded or coerced to settle in the countryside, often in remote frontier districts. Because there were no jobs in the cities, the party expected urban youth to apply their education in the countryside as primary school teachers, production team accountants, or barefoot doctors; many did manual labor. The policy was intensely unpopular, not only with urban parents and youth but also with peasants and was dropped soon after the fall of the Gang of Four in late 1976. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of the youth who had been sent down to the countryside managed to make their way back to the cities, where they had neither jobs nor ration books. By the mid1980s most of them had found jobs in the newly expanded service sector.

In terms of creating jobs and mollifying urban parents, the 1980s policies on urban employment have been quite successful. The jobs in many cases are not the sort that educated young people or their parents would choose, but they are considerably better than a lifelong assignment to remote frontier areas.

The Maoist policies on education and job assignment were successful in preventing a great many urban "bourgeois" parents from passing their favored social status on to their children. This reform, however, came at great cost to the economy and to the prestige and authority of the party itself.

China - Examinations, Hereditary Transmission of Jobs, and Connections

Beginning in the late 1970s, China's leaders stressed expertise and education over motivation and ideology and consequently placed emphasis again on examinations. Competition in the schools was explicit, and examinations were frequent. A major step in the competition for desirable jobs was the passage from senior middle school to college and university, and success was determined by performance on a nationwide college and university entrance examination. Examinations also were used to select applicants for jobs in factories, and even factory managers had to pass examinations to keep their positions. The content of these examinations has not been made public, but their use represents a logical response to the problem of unfair competition, favoritism, and corruption.

One extreme form of selection by favoritism in the 1980s was simple hereditary transmission, and this principle, which operated on a de facto basis in rural work units, seems to have been fairly widely used in China's industrial sector. From the 1960s to the 1980s, factories and mines in many cases permitted children to replace their parents in jobs, which simplified recruitment and was an effective way of encouraging aging workers to retire. The government forbade this practice in the 1980s, but in some instances state-run factories and mines, especially those located in rural or remote areas, used their resources to set up subsidiaries or sideline enterprises to provide employment for their workers' children. The leaders of these work units evidently felt responsible for providing employment to the children of unit members.

The party and its role in personnel matters, including job assignments, can be an obstacle to the consistent application of hiring standards. At the grass-roots level, the party branch's control of job assignments and promotions is one of the foundations of its power, and some local party cadres in the mid-1980s apparently viewed the expanded use of examinations and educational qualifications as a threat to their power. The party, acting through local employment commissions, controlled all job assignments. Party members occupied the most powerful and desirable positions; the way party members were evaluated and selected for positions remained obscure. Local party cadres were frequently suspected by the authorities of using their connections to secure jobs for their relatives or clients.

China - WOMEN

Traditional Chinese society was male-centered. Sons were preferred to daughters, and women were expected to be subordinate to fathers, husbands, and sons. A young woman had little voice in the decision on her marriage partner (neither did a young man). When married, it was she who left her natal family and community and went to live in a family and community of strangers where she was subordinate to her mother-in-law. Far fewer women were educated than men, and sketchy but consistent demographic evidence would seem to show that female infants and children had higher death rates and less chance of surviving to adulthood than males. In extreme cases, female infants were the victims of infanticide, and daughters were sold, as chattels, to brothels or to wealthy families. Bound feet, which were customary even for peasant women, symbolized the painful constraints of the female role.

Protests and concerted efforts to alter women's place in society began in China's coastal cities in the early years of the twentieth century. By the 1920s formal acceptance of female equality was common among urban intellectuals. Increasing numbers of girls attended schools, and young secondary school and college students approved of marriages based on free choice. Footbinding declined rapidly in the second decade of the century, the object of a nationwide campaign led by intellectuals who associated it with national backwardness.

Nevertheless, while party leaders condemned the oppression and subordination of women as one more aspect of the traditional society they were intent on changing, they did not accord feminist issues very high priority. In the villages, party members were interested in winning the loyalty and cooperation of poor and lower-middle-class male peasants, who could be expected to resist public criticism of their treatment of their wives and daughters. Many party members were poor and lower-middle-class peasants from the interior, and their attitudes toward women reflected their background. The party saw the liberation of women as depending, in a standard Marxist way, on their participation in the labor force outside the household.

The position of women in contemporary society has changed from the past, and public verbal assent to propositions about the equality of the sexes and of sons and daughters seems universal. Women attend schools and universities, serve in the People's Liberation Army, and join the party. Almost all urban women and the majority of rural women work outside the home. But women remain disadvantaged in many ways, economic and social, and there seems no prospect for substantive change.

The greatest change in women's status has been their movement into the paid labor force. The jobs they held in the 1980s, though, were generally lower paying and less desirable than those of men. Industries staffed largely by women, such as the textiles industry, paid lower wages than those staffed by men, such as the steel or mining industries. Women were disproportionately represented in collective enterprises, which paid lower wages and offered fewer benefits than state-owned industries. In the countryside, the work of males was consistently better rewarded than that of women, and most skilled and desirable jobs, such as driving trucks or repairing machines, were held by men. In addition, Chinese women suffered the familiar double burden of full-time wage work and most of the household chores as well.

As there come to be both more opportunities and more explicit competition for them in both city and countryside, there are some hints of women's being excluded from the competition. In the countryside, a disproportionate number of girls drop out of primary school because parents do not see the point of educating a daughter who will marry and leave the family and because they need her labor in the home. There are fewer female students in key rural and urban secondary schools and universities. As economic growth in rural areas generates new and potentially lucrative jobs, there is a tendency in at least some areas for women to be relegated to agricultural labor, which is poorly rewarded. There have been reports in the Chinese press of outright discrimination against women in hiring for urban jobs and of enterprises requiring female applicants to score higher than males on examinations for hiring.

On the whole, in the 1980s women were better off than their counterparts 50 or a 100 years before, and they had full legal equality with men. In practice, their opportunities and rewards were not entirely equal, and they tended to get less desirable jobs and to retain the burden of domestic chores in addition to fulltime jobs.


Traditionally, China's Confucian elite disparaged religion and religious practitioners, and the state suppressed or controlled organized religious groups. The social status of Buddhist monks and Taoist priests was low, and ordinary people did not generally look up to them as models. In the past, religion was diffused throughout the society, a matter as much of practice as of belief, and had a weak institutional structure. Essentially the same pattern continues in contemporary society, except that the ruling elite is even less religious and there are even fewer religious practitioners.

The attitude of the party has been that religion is a relic of the past, evidence of prescientific thinking, and something that will fade away as people become educated and acquire a scientific view of the world. On the whole, religion has not been a major issue. Cadres and party members, in ways very similar to those of Confucian elites, tend to regard many religious practitioners as charlatans out to take advantage of credulous people, who need protection. In the 1950s many Buddhist monks were returned to secular life, and monasteries and temples lost their lands in the land reform. Foreign missionaries were expelled, often after being accused of spying, and Chinese Christians, who made up only a very small proportion of the population, were the objects of suspicion because of their foreign contacts. Chinese Christian organizations were established, one for Protestants and one for Roman Catholics, which stressed that their members were loyal to the state and party. Seminaries were established to train "patriotic" Chinese clergy, and the Chinese Catholic Church rejected the authority of the Vatican, ordaining its own priests and installing its own bishops. The issue in all cases, whether involving Christians, Buddhists, or members of underground Chinese sects, was not so much doctrine or theology as recognition of the primacy of loyalty to the state and party. Folk religion was dismissed as superstition. Temples were for the most part converted to other uses, and public celebration of communal festivals stopped, but the state did not put much energy into suppressing folk religion.

During the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, in 1966 and 1967, Red Guards destroyed temples, statues, and domestic ancestral tablets as part of their violent assault on the "four olds" (old ideas, culture, customs, and habits). Public observances of ritual essentially halted during the Cultural Revolution decade. After 1978, the year marking the return to power of the Deng Xiaoping reformers, the party and state were more tolerant of the public expression of religion as long as it remained within carefully defined limits. Some showcase temples were restored and opened as historical sites, and some Buddhist and even Taoist practitioners were permitted to wear their robes, train a few successors, and perform rituals in the reopened temples. These actions on the part of the state can be interpreted as a confident regime's recognition of China's traditional past, in the same way that the shrine at the home of Confucius in Shandong Province has been refurbished and opened to the public. Confucian and Buddhist doctrines are not seen as a threat, and the motive is primarily one of nationalistic identification with China's past civilization.

Similar tolerance and even mild encouragement is accorded to Chinese Christians, whose churches were reopened starting in the late 1970s. As of 1987 missionaries were not permitted in China, and some Chinese Catholic clergy were imprisoned for refusing to recognize the authority of China's "patriotic" Catholic Church and its bishops.

The most important result of state toleration of religion has been improved relations with China's Islamic and Tibetan Buddhist minority populations. State patronage of Islam and Buddhism also plays a part in China's foreign relations. Much of traditional ritual and religion survives or has been revived, especially in the countryside. In the mid-1980s the official press condemned such activities as wasteful and reminded rural party members that they should neither participate in nor lead such events, but it did not make the subject a major issue. Families could worship their ancestors or traditional gods in the privacy of their homes but had to make all ritual paraphernalia (incense sticks, ancestral tablets, and so forth) themselves, as it was no longer sold in shops. The scale of public celebrations was muted, and full-time professional clergy played no role. Folk religious festivals were revived in some localities, and there was occasional rebuilding of temples and ancestral halls. In rural areas, funerals were the ritual having the least change, although observances were carried out only by family members and kin, with no professional clergy in attendance. Such modest, mostly household-based folk religious activity was largely irrelevant to the concerns of the authorities, who ignored or tolerated it.


By the mid-1980s the pace of social change in China was increasing, and, more than in any decade since the 1950s, fundamental changes in the structure of society seemed possible. The ultimate direction of social changes remained unclear, but social trends and tensions that could generate social change were evident. These trends were toward greater specialization and division of labor and toward new, more open and loosely structured forms of association. The uniform pattern of organization of work units in agriculture, industry, public administration, and the military was beginning to shift to an organization structured to reflect its purpose. Education and technical qualification were becoming more significant for attaining high status in villages, industries, the government, or the armed forces. Opportunities for desirable jobs remained limited, however, and competition for those jobs or for housing, urban residence, or college admission was keen.

The primary tension in Chinese society resulted from the value political leaders and ordinary citizens placed on both the social values of security and equality and the goals of economic growth and modernization. China remained a society in which all desired goods were in short supply, from arable land to secure nonmanual jobs, to a seat on a city bus. Crowding was normal and pervasive. Competition and open social strife were restrained by the public belief that scarce goods were being distributed as equitably as possible and that no individual or group was being deprived of livelihood or a fair share. In the mid-1980s Chinese authorities feared that social disorder might result from popular discontent over price increases or the conspicuous wealth of small segments of the population, such as free-market traders. The press frequently condemned the expressions of jealousy and envy that some people directed at those who were prospering by taking advantage of the opportunities the reformed economy offered. The rise in living standards in the 1980s may have contributed to rising expectations that could not be met without considerably more economic growth.

The tension between security and economic growth was reflected in the people's attitudes toward the work unit and the degree of control it exercised over their lives. There was no apparent reason why even a socialist, planned economy had to organize its work force into closed, insular, and sometimes nearly hereditary units. People generally liked the security and benefits provided by their units but disliked many other aspects of "unit life," such as the prohibition on changing jobs. Limited surveys in cities indicated that most people were assigned to work units arbitrarily, without regard to their wishes or skills, and felt little loyalty toward or identification with their work units. People adapted to unit life but reserved loyalties for their families at the one extreme and for the nation and "the people" at the other.

Rural reforms had essentially abolished the work unit in the countryside, along with its close control over people's activities. State and party control over the rural economy and society persisted, but individuals were accorded more autonomy, and most rural people seemed to welcome the end of production teams and production brigades. The success of these rural reforms made modification or even abolition of work units in the urban and state sectors a possibility.

By the mid-1980s the Chinese press and academic journals were discussing recruitment and movement of employees among work units. Although the discussion initially focused on scientists and technicians, whose talents were often wasted in units where they could not make full use of them, the questions raised were of general import. Such blocked mobility was recognized by China's leadership as an impediment to economic growth, and a "rational" flow of labor was listed as a goal for reform of the economy and the science and technology system. But few concrete steps had been taken to promote labor mobility, although government resolutions granted scientists and technicians the right to transfer to another unit, subject to the approval of their original work unit. The issue was politically sensitive, as it touched on the powers and perquisites of the party and of managers. Managers often refused permission to leave the unit, even to those scientists and engineers who had the formal right to apply for a transfer.

Similarly, foreign-funded joint ventures, on which China's government placed its hopes for technology transfer, found it impossible to hire the engineers and technicians they needed for high-technology work. There may have been personnel at other enterprises in the same city eager to work for the new firm, but there was no way to transfer them. In 1986 the State Council, in a move that had little immediate effect but considerable potential, decreed that henceforth state enterprises would hire people on contracts good for only a few years and that these contract employees would be free to seek other jobs when their contracts expired. The contract system did not apply, as of late 1986, to workers already employed in state enterprises, but it did indicate the direction in which at least some leaders wished to go.

The fundamental issues of scarcity, equity, and opportunity lay behind problems of balance and exchange among work units, among the larger systems of units such as those under one industry ministry, or between city and country. One of the major goals of the economic reform program in the mid-1980s was to break down barriers to the exchange of information, personnel, and goods and services that separated units, industrial systems, and geographic regions. National-level leaders decried the waste of scarce resources inherent in the attempts of industries or administrative divisions to be self-sufficient in as many areas as possible, in their duplication of research and production, and in their tendencies to hoard raw materials and skilled workers. Attempts to break down administrative barriers (such as bans on the sale of industrial products from other administrative divisions or the refusal of municipal authorities to permit factories subordinate to national ministries to collaborate with those subordinate to the municipality) were often frustrated by the efforts of those organizations that perceived themselves as advantageously placed to maintain the barriers and their unduly large share of the limited goods. Economic growth and development, which accelerated in the 1980s, was giving rise to an increasingly differentiated economic and occupational structure, within which some individuals and enterprises succeeded quite well.

Economic reforms in rural areas generated a great income spread among households, and some geographically favored areas, such as central Guangdong and southern Jiangsu provinces, experienced more rapid economic growth than the interior or mountainous areas. The official position was that while some households were getting rich first, no one was worse off and that the economy as a whole was growing. Press commentary, however, indicated a fairly high level of official concern over public perceptions of growing inequality. The problem confronting China's leaders was to promote economic growth while retaining public confidence in society's fundamental equity and fair allocation of burdens and rewards.

The major question was whether the basic pattern of Chinese society, a cellular structure of equivalent units coordinated by the ruling party, would continue with modifications, or whether its costs were such that it would be replaced by a different and less uniform system. In the late 1980s, either alternative seemed possible. The outcome would depend on both political forces and economic pressures. In either case, balancing individual security with opportunity would remain the fundamental task of those who direct Chinese society.

China - Education and Culture

SINCE THE REPUDIATION of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the development of the education system in China has been geared particularly to the advancement of economic modernization. Among the notable official efforts to improve the system were a 1984 decision to formulate major laws on education in the next several years and a 1985 plan to reform the education system. In unveiling the education reform plan in May 1985, the authorities called for nine years of compulsory education and the establishment of the State Education Commission (created the following month). Official commitment to improved education was nowhere more evident than in the substantial increase in funds for education in the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1986-90), which amounted to 72 percent more than funds allotted to education in the previous plan period (1981-85). In 1986 some 16.8 percent of the state budget was earmarked for education, compared with 10.4 percent in 1984. Since 1949, education has been a focus of controversy in China. As a result of continual intraparty realignments, official policy alternated between ideological imperatives and practical efforts to further national development. But ideology and pragmatism often have been incompatible. The Great Leap Forward (1958-60) and the Socialist Education Movement (1962-65) sought to end deeply rooted academic elitism, to narrow social and cultural gaps between workers and peasants and between urban and rural populations, and to "rectify" the tendency of scholars and intellectuals disdain manual labor. During the Cultural Revolution, universal education in the interest of fostering social equality was an overriding priority.

The post-Mao Zedong Chinese Communist Party leadership viewed education as the foundation of the Four Modernizations. In the early 1980s, science and technology education became an important focus of education policy. By 1986 training skilled personnel and expanding scientific and technical knowledge had been assigned the highest priority. Although the humanities were considered important, vocational and technical skills were considered paramount for meeting China's modernization goals. The reorientation of educational priorities paralleled Deng Xiaoping's strategy for economic development. Emphasis also was placed on the further training of the already-educated elite, who would carry on the modernization program in the coming decades. Renewed emphasis on modern science and technology, coupled with the recognition of the relative scientific superiority of the West, led to the adoption, beginning in 1976, of an outward-looking policy that encouraged learning and borrowing from abroad for advanced training in a wide range of scientific fields.

Beginning at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978, intellectuals were encouraged to pursue research in support of the Four Modernizations and, as long as they complied with the party's "four cardinal principles"--upholding socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the leadership of the party, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought--they were given relatively free rein. But when the party and the government determined that the strictures of the four cardinal principles had been stretched beyond tolerable limits, they did not hesitate to restrict intellectual expression.

Literature and the arts also experienced a great revival in the late 1970s and 1980s. Traditional forms flourished once again, and many new kinds of literature and cultural expression were introduced from abroad.


During the Cultural Revolution, higher education in particular suffered tremendous losses; the system was shut down, and a rising generation of college and graduate students, academicians and technicians, professionals and teachers, was lost. The result was a lack of trained talent to meet the needs of society, an irrationally structured higher education system unequal to the needs of the economic and technological boom, and an uneven development in secondary technical and vocational education. In the post-Mao period, China's education policy continued to evolve. The pragmatist leadership, under Deng Xiaoping, recognized that to meet the goals of modernization it was necessary to develop science, technology, and intellectual resources and to raise the population's education level. Demands on education--for new technology, information science, and advanced management expertise--were levied as a result of the reform of the economic structure and the emergence of new economic forms. In particular, China needed an educated labor force to feed and provision its 1- billion-plus population.

By 1980 achievement was once again accepted as the basis for admission and promotion in education. This fundamental change reflected the critical role of scientific and technical knowledge and professional skills in the Four Modernizations. Also, political activism was no longer regarded as an important measure of individual performance, and even the development of commonly approved political attitudes and political background was secondary to achievement. Education policy promoted expanded enrollments, with the long-term objective of achieving universal primary and secondary education. This policy contrasted with the previous one, which touted increased enrollments for egalitarian reasons. In 1985 the commitment to modernization was reinforced by plans for nine-year compulsory education and for providing good quality higher education.

Deng Xiaoping's far-ranging educational reform policy, which involved all levels of the education system, aimed to narrow the gap between China and other developing countries. Modernizing China was tied to modernizing education. Devolution of educational management from the central to the local level was the means chosen to improve the education system. Centralized authority was not abandoned, however, as evidenced by the creation of the State Education Commission. Academically, the goals of reform were to enhance and universalize elementary and junior middle school education; to increase the number of schools and qualified teachers; and to develop vocational and technical education. A uniform standard for curricula, textbooks, examinations, and teacher qualifications (especially at the middle-school level) was established, and considerable autonomy and variations in and among the autonomous regions, provinces, and special municipalities were allowed. Further, the system of enrollment and job assignment in higher education was changed, and excessive government control over colleges and universities was reduced.


To provide for its population, China has a vast and varied school system. There are preschools, kindergartens, schools for the deaf and blind, key schools (similar to college preparatory schools), primary schools, secondary schools (comprising junior and senior middle schools, secondary agricultural and vocational schools, regular secondary schools, secondary teachers' schools, secondary technical schools, and secondary professional schools), and various institutions of higher learning (consisting of regular colleges and universities, professional colleges, and short-term vocational universities). In terms of access to education, China's system represented a pyramid; because of the scarcity of resources allotted to higher education, student numbers decreased sharply at the higher levels. Although there were dramatic advances in primary education after 1949, achievements in secondary and higher education were not as great.

Although the government has authority over the education system, the Chinese Communist Party has played a role in managing education since 1949. The party established broad education policies and under Deng Xiaoping, tied improvements in the quality of education to its modernization plan. The party also monitored the government's implementation of its policies at the local level and within educational institutions through its party committees. Party members within educational institutions, who often have a leading management role, are responsible for steering their schools in the direction mandated by party policy.

New Directions

The May 1985 National Conference on Education recognized five fundamental areas for reform to be discussed in connection with implementing the party Central Committee's "Draft Decision on Reforming the Education System." The reforms were intended to produce "more able people"; to make the localities responsible for developing "basic education" and systematically implement a nine-year compulsory education program; to improve secondary education develop vocational and technical education; to reform and the graduate-assignment system of institutions of higher education and to expand their management and decision-making powers; and to give administrators the necessary encouragement and authority to ensure smooth progress in educational reform.

The National Conference on Education paved the way for the abolition of the Ministry of Education and the establishment of the State Education Commission, both of which occurred in June 1985. Created to coordinate education policy, the commission assumed roles previously played by the State Planning Commission and the Ministry of Education. As a State Council commission, the new State Education Commission had greater status than the old Ministry of Education had had and was in charge of all education organizations except military ones. Although the State Education Commission assumed a central role in the administration of education, the reform decentralized much of the power previously wielded by the Ministry of Education and its constituent offices and bureaus, which had established curriculum and admissions policies in response to the State Planning Commission's requirements.

The State Education Commission, with its expanded administrative scope and power, was responsible for formulating guiding principles for education, establishing regulations, planning the progress of educational projects, coordinating the educational programs of different departments, and standardization educational reforms. Simplification of administration and delegation of authority were made the bases for improving the education system. This devolution of management to the autonomous regions, provinces, and special municipalities meant local governments had more decision-making power and were able to develop basic education. State-owned enterprises, mass organizations, and individuals were encouraged to pool funds to accomplish education reform. Local authorities used state appropriations and a percentage of local reserve financial resources (basically township financial revenues) to finance educational projects.

Compulsory Education Law

The Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, which took effect July 1, 1986, established requirements and deadlines for attaining universal education tailored to local conditions and guaranteed school-age children the right to receive education. People's congresses at various local levels were, within certain guidelines and according to local conditions, to decide the steps, methods, and deadlines for implementing nine-year compulsory education in accordance with the guidelines formulated by the central authorities. The program sought to bring rural areas, which had four to six years of compulsory schooling, into line with their urban counterparts. Education departments were exhorted to train millions of skilled workers for all trades and professions and to offer guidelines, curricula, and methods to comply with the reform program and modernization needs.

Provincial-level authorities were to develop plans, enact decrees and rules, distribute funds to counties, and administer directly a few key secondary schools. County authorities were to distribute funds to each township government, which were to make up any deficiencies. County authorities were to supervise education and teaching and to manage their own senior middle schools, teachers' schools, teachers' in-service training schools, agricultural vocational schools, and exemplary primary and junior middle schools. The remaining schools were to be managed separately by the county and township authorities.

The compulsory education law divided China into three categories: cities and economically developed areas in coastal provinces and a small number of developed areas in the hinterland; towns and villages with medium development; and economically backward areas. By November 1985 the first category--the larger cities and approximately 20 percent of the counties (mainly in the more developed coastal and southeastern areas of China) had achieved universal 9-year education. By 1990 cities, economically developed areas in coastal provincial-level units, and a small number of developed interior areas (approximately 25 percent of China's population) and areas where junior middle schools were already popularized were targeted to have universal junior-middle- school education. Education planners envisioned that by the mid-1990s all workers and staff in coastal areas, inland cities, and moderately developed areas (with a combined population of 300 million to 400 million people) would have either compulsory 9-year or vocational education and that 5 percent of the people in these areas would have a college education--building a solid intellectual foundation for China. Further, the planners expected that secondary education and university entrants would also increase by the year 2000.

The second category targeted under the 9-year compulsory education law consisted of towns and villages with medium-level development (around 50 percent of China's population), where universal education was expected to reach the junior-middle-school level by 1995. Technical and higher education was projected to develop at the same rate.

The third category, economically backward (rural) areas (around 25 percent of China's population) were to popularize basic education without a timetable and at various levels according to local economic development, though the state would "do its best" to support educational development. The state also would assist education in minority nationality areas. In the past, rural areas, which lacked a standardized and universal primary education system, had produced generations of illiterates; only 60 percent of their primary school graduates had met established standards.

As a further example of the government's commitment to nine-year compulsory education, in January 1986 the State Council drafted a bill passed at the Fourteenth Session of the Standing Committee of the Sixth National People's Congress that made it illegal for any organization or individual to employ youths before they had completed their nine years of schooling. The bill also authorized free education and subsidies for students whose families had financial difficulties.

Key Schools

"Key schools," shut down during the Cultural Revolution, reappeared in the late 1970s and, in the early 1980s, became an integral part of the effort to revive the lapsed education system. Because educational resources were scarce, selected ("key") institutions--usually those with records of past educational accomplishment--were given priority in the assignment of teachers, equipment, and funds. They also were allowed to recruit the best students for special training to compete for admission to top schools at the next level. Key schools constituted only a small percentage of all regular senior middle schools and funneled the best students into the best secondary schools, largely on the basis of entrance scores. In 1980 the greatest resources were allocated to the key schools that would produce the greatest number of college entrants.

In early 1987 efforts had begun to develop the key school from a preparatory school into a vehicle for diffusing improved curricula, materials, and teaching practices to local schools. Moreover, the appropriateness of a key school's role in the nine-year basic education plan was questioned by some officials because key schools favored urban areas and the children of more affluent and better educated parents. In 1985 entrance examinations and the key-school system had already been abolished in Changchun, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Xiamen, and other cities, and education departments in Shanghai and Tianjin were moving to establish a student recommendation system and eliminate key schools. In 1986 the Shanghai Educational Bureau abolished the key junior-middle- school system to ensure "an overall level of education."


Primary Schools

The development of primary education in so vast a country as China was a formidable accomplishment. In contrast to the 20- percent enrollment rate before 1949, in 1985 about 96 percent of primary-school-age children were enrolled in approximately 832,300 primary schools (see table 10, Appendix A). This enrollment figure compared favorably with the record figures of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when enrollment standards were more egalitarian. In 1985 the World Bank estimated that enrollments in primary schools would decrease from 136 million in 1983 to 95 million in the late 1990s and that the decreased enrollment would reduce the number of teachers needed. Qualified teachers, however, would continue to be in demand.

Under the Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, primary schools were to be tuition-free and reasonably located for the convenience of children attending them; students would attend primary schools in their neighborhoods or villages. Parents paid a small fee per term for books and other expenses such as transportation, food, and heating. Previously, fees were not considered a deterrent to attendance, although some parents felt even these minor costs were more than they could afford. Under the education reform, students from poor families received stipends, and state enterprises, institutions, and other sectors of society were encouraged to establish their own schools. A major concern was that scarce resources be conserved without causing enrollment to fall and without weakening of the better schools. In particular, local governments were warned not to pursue middle-school education blindly while primary school education was still developing, or to wrest money, teaching staff, and materials from primary schools.

Children usually entered primary school at seven years of age for six days a week. The two-semester school year consisted of 9.5 months, with a long vacation in July and August. Urban primary schools typically divided the school week into twenty-four to twenty-seven classes of forty-five minutes each, but in the rural areas the norm was half-day schooling, more flexible schedules, and itinerant teachers. Most primary schools had a five-year course, except in such cities as Beijing and Shanghai, which had reintroduced six-year primary schools and accepted children at six and one-half years rather than seven. The primary-school curriculum consisted of Chinese, mathematics, physical education, music, drawing, and elementary instruction in nature, history, and geography, combined with practical work experiences around the school compound. A general knowledge of politics and moral training, which stressed love of the motherland, love of the party, and love of the people (and previously love of Chairman Mao), was another part of the curriculum. A foreign language, often English, was introduced in about the third grade. Chinese and mathematics accounted for about 60 percent of the scheduled class time; natural science and social science accounted for about 8 percent. Putonghua (common spoken language, see Glossary) was taught in regular schools and pinyin romanization in lower grades and kindergarten. The State Education Commission required that all primary schools offer courses on communist ideology and morality. Beginning in the fourth grade, students usually had to perform productive labor two weeks per semester to relate classwork with production experience in workshops or on farms and subordinate it to academic study. Most schools had after-hour activities at least one day per week--often organized by the Young Pioneers--to involve students in recreation and community service.

By 1980 the percentage of students enrolled in primary schools was high, but the schools reported high dropout rates and regional enrollment gaps (most enrollees were concentrated in the cities). Only one in four counties had universal primary education. On the average, 10-percent of the students dropped out between each grade. During the 1979-83 period, the government acknowledged the "9-6-3" rule, that is, that nine of ten children began primary school, six completed it, and three graduated with good performance. This meant that only about 60 percent of primary students actually completed their five year program of study and graduated, and only about 30 percent were regarded as having primary-level competence. Statistics in the mid-1980s showed that more rural girls than boys dropped out of school.

Within the framework of the Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education and the general trend toward vocational and technical skills, attempts were made to accommodate and correct the gap between urban and rural education. Urban and key schools almost invariably operated on a six day full-time schedule to prepare students for further education and high-level jobs. Rural schools generally operated on a flexible schedule geared to the needs of the agricultural seasons and sought to prepare students for adult life and manual labor in lower-skilled jobs. They also offered a more limited curriculum, often only Chinese, mathematics, and morals. To promote attendance and allow the class schedule and academic year to be completed, agricultural seasons were taken into account. School holidays were moved, school days shortened, and full-time, half-time, and spare-time classes offered in the slack agricultural seasons. Sometimes itinerant teachers were hired for mountain villages and served one village in the morning, another village in the afternoon.

Rural parents were generally well aware that their children had limited opportunities to further their education. Some parents saw little use in having their children attend even primary school, especially after the establishment of the agricultural responsibility system. Under that system, parents preferred that their children work to increase family income--and withdrew them from school--for both long and short periods of time.

Preschool Education

Preschool education, which began at age three and one-half, was another target of education reform in 1985. Preschool facilities were to be established in buildings made available by public enterprises, production teams, municipal authorities, local groups, and families. The government announced that it depended on individual organizations to sponsor their own preschool education and that preschool education was to become a part of the welfare services of various government organizations, institutes, and state- and collectively operated enterprises. Costs for preschool education varied according to services rendered. Officials also called for more preschool teachers with more appropriate training.

Special Education

The 1985 National Conference on Education also recognized the importance of special education, in the form of programs for gifted children and for slow learners. Gifted children were allowed to skip grades. Slow learners were encouraged to reach minimum standards, although those who did not maintain the pace seldom reached the next stage. For the most part, children with severe learning problems and those with handicaps and psychological needs were the responsibilities of their families. Extra provisions were made for blind and severely hearing-impaired children, although in 1984 special schools enrolled fewer than 2 percent of all eligible children in those categories. The China Welfare Fund, established in 1984, received state funding and had the right to solicit donations within China and from abroad, but special education remained a low government priority.


Middle Schools

Secondary education in China has a complicated history. In the early 1960s, education planners followed a policy called "walking on two legs," which established both regular academic schools and separate technical schools for vocational training. The rapid expansion of secondary education during the Cultural Revolution created serious problems; because resources were spread too thinly, educational quality declined. Further, this expansion was limited to regular secondary schools; technical schools were closed during the Cultural Revolution because they were viewed as an attempt to provide inferior education to children of worker and peasant families. In the late 1970s, government and party representatives criticized what they termed the "unitary" approach of the 1960s, arguing that it ignored the need for two kinds of graduates: those with an academic education (college preparatory) and those with specialized technical education (vocational). Beginning in 1976 with the renewed emphasis on technical training, technical schools reopened, and their enrollments increased (as did those of key schools, also criticized during the Cultural Revolution). In the drive to spread vocational and technical education, regular secondary-school enrollments fell. By 1986 universal secondary education was part of the nine year compulsory education law that made primary education (six years) and junior-middle-school education (three years) mandatory. The desire to consolidate existing schools and to improve the quality of key middle schools was, however, under the education reform, more important than expanding enrollment.

Chinese secondary schools are called middle schools and are divided into junior and senior levels. In 1985 more than 104,000 middle schools (both regular and vocational) enrolled about 51 million students. Junior, or lower, middle schools offered a three year course of study, which students began at twelve years of age. Senior, or upper, middle schools offered a two or three year course, which students began at age fifteen.

The regular secondary-school year usually had two semesters, totaling nine months. In some rural areas, schools operated on a shift schedule to accommodate agricultural cycles. The academic curriculum consisted of Chinese, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, foreign language, history, geography, politics, physiology, music, fine arts, and physical education. Some middle schools also offered vocational subjects. There were thirty or thirty-one periods a week in addition to self-study and extracurricular activity. Thirty-eight percent of the curriculum at a junior middle school was in Chinese and mathematics, 16 percent in a foreign language. Fifty percent of the teaching at a senior middle school was in natural sciences and mathematics, 30 percent in Chinese and a foreign language.

Rural secondary education has undergone several transformations since 1980, when county-level administrative units closed some schools and took over certain schools run by the people's communes. In 1982 the communes were eliminated. In 1985 educational reform legislation officially placed rural secondary schools under local administration. There was a high dropout rate among rural students in general and among secondary students in particular, largely because of parental attitudes. All students, however, especially males, were encouraged to attend secondary school if it would lead to entrance to a college or university (still regarded as prestigious) and escape from village life.

In China a senior-middle-school graduate is considered an educated person, although middle schools are viewed as a training ground for colleges and universities. And, while middle-school students are offered the prospect of higher education, they are also confronted with the fact that university admission is limited. Middle schools are evaluated in terms of their success in sending graduates on for higher education, although efforts persist to educate young people to take a place in society as valued and skilled members of the work force.

Vocational and Technical Schools

Both regular and vocational secondary schools sought to serve modernization needs. A number of technical and "skilled-worker" training schools reopened after the Cultural Revolution, and an effort was made to provide exposure to vocational subjects in general secondary schools (by offering courses in industry, services, business, and agriculture). By 1985 there were almost 3 million vocational and technical students.

Under the educational reform tenets, polytechnic colleges were to give priority to admitting secondary vocational and technical school graduates and providing on-the-job training for qualified workers. Education reformers continued to press for the conversion of about 50 percent of upper secondary education into vocational education, which traditionally had been weak in the rural areas. Regular senior middle schools were to be converted into vocational middle schools, and vocational training classes were to be established in some senior middle schools. Diversion of students from academic to technical education was intended to alleviate skill shortages and to reduce the competition for university enrollment. Although enrollment in technical schools of various kinds had not yet increased enough to compensate for decreasing enrollments in regular senior middle schools, the proportion of vocational and technical students to total senior-middle-school students increased from about 5 percent in 1978 to almost 36 percent in 1985, although development was uneven. Further, to encourage greater numbers of junior-middle-school graduates to enter technical schools, vocational and technical school graduates were given priority in job assignments, while other job seekers had to take technical tests.

In 1987 there were four kinds of secondary vocational and technical schools: technical schools that offered a four year, post-junior middle course and two- to three-year post-senior middle training in such fields as commerce, legal work, fine arts, and forestry; workers' training schools that accepted students whose senior-middle-school education consisted of two years of training in such trades as carpentry and welding; vocational technical schools that accepted either junior-or senior-middle-school students for one- to three-year courses in cooking, tailoring, photography, and other services; and agricultural middle schools that offered basic subjects and agricultural science.

These technical schools had several hundred different programs. Their narrow specializations had advantages in that they offered in-depth training , reducing the need for on-the-job training and thereby lowering learning time and costs. Moreover, students were more motivated to study if there were links between training and future jobs. Much of the training could be done at existing enterprises, where staff and equipment was available at little additional cost.

There were some disadvantages to this system, however. Under the Four Modernizations, technically trained generalists were needed more than highly specialized technicians. Also, highly specialized equipment and staff were underused, and there was an overall shortage of specialized facilities to conduct training. In addition, large expenses were incurred in providing the necessary facilities and staff, and the trend in some government technical agencies was toward more general technical and vocational education.

Further, the dropout rate continued to have a negative effect on the labor pool as upper-secondary-school technical students dropped out and as the percentage of lower-secondary-school graduates entering the labor market without job training increased. Occupational rigidity and the geographic immobility of the population, particularly in rural areas, further limited educational choices.

Although there were 668,000 new polytechnic school enrollments in 1985, the Seventh Five-Year Plan called for annual increases of 2 million mid-level skilled workers and 400,000 senior technicians, indicating that enrollment levels were still far from sufficient. To improve the situation, in July 1986 officials from the State Education Commission, State Planning Commission, and Ministry of Labor and Personnel convened a national conference on developing China's technical and vocational education. It was decided that technical and vocational education in rural areas should accommodate local conditions and be conducted on a short-term basis. Where conditions permitted, emphasis would be placed on organizing technical schools and short-term training classes. To alleviate the shortage of teachers, vocational and technical teachers' colleges were to be reformed and other colleges and universities were to be mobilized for assistance. The State Council decision to improve training for workers who had passed technical examinations (as opposed to unskilled workers) was intended to reinforce the development of vocational and technical schools.



Higher education reflects the changes in political policies that have occurred in contemporary China. Since 1949 emphasis has continually been placed on political re-education, and in periods of political upheaval, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, ideology has been stressed over professional or technical competence. During the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, tens of thousands of college students joined Red Guard organizations, effectively closing down the higher education system. In general, when universities reopened in the early 1970s, enrollments were reduced from pre-Cultural Revolution levels, and admission was restricted to individuals who had been recommended by their work unit (danwei) possessed good political credentials, and had distinguished themselves in manual labor. In the absence of stringent and reasonably objective entrance examinations, political connections became increasingly important in securing the recommendations and political dossiers necessary to qualify for university admission. As a result, the decline in educational quality was profound. Deng Xiaoping reportedly wrote Mao Zedong in 1975 that university graduates were "not even capable of reading a book" in their own fields when they left the university. University faculty and administrators, moreover, were demoralized by what they faced.

Efforts made in 1975 to improve educational quality were unsuccessful. By 1980 it appeared doubtful that the politically oriented admission criteria had accomplished even the purpose of increasing enrollment of worker and peasant children. Successful candidates for university entrance were usually children of cadres and officials who used personal connections that allowed them to "enter through the back door." Students from officials' families would accept the requisite minimum two year work assignment in the countryside, often in a suburban location that allowed them to remain close to their families. Village cadres, anxious to please the parent-official, gladly recommended these youths for university placement after the labor requirement had been met. The child of an official family was then on his or her way to a university without having academic ability, a record of political activism, or a distinguished work record.

After 1976 steps were taken to improve educational quality by establishing order and stability, and calling for an end to political contention on university campuses, and expanding university enrollments. This pressure to maintain quality and minimize expenditures led to efforts both to run existing institutions more efficiently and to develop other college and university programs. As a result, labor colleges for training agro-technicians and factory-run colleges for providing technical education for workers were established. In addition, eighty-eight institutions and key universities were provided with special funding, top students and faculty members, and other support, and they recruited the most academically qualified students without regard to family background or political activism.

Educational Investment

Many of the problems that had hindered higher educational development in the past continued in 1987. Funding remained a major problem because science and technology study and research and study abroad were expensive. Because education was competing with other modernization programs, capital was critically short. Another concern was whether or not the Chinese economy was sufficiently advanced to make efficient use of the highly trained technical personnel it planned to educate. For example, some observers believed that it would be more realistic to train a literate work force of low-level technicians instead of than research scientists. Moreover, it was feared that using an examination to recruit the most able students might advance people who were merely good at taking examinations. Educational reforms also made some people uncomfortable by criticizing the traditional practice of rote memorization and promoting innovative teaching and study methods.

The prestige associated with higher education caused a demand for it. But many qualified youths were unable to attend colleges and universities because China could not finance enough university places for them. To help meet the demand and to educate a highly trained, specialized work force, China established alternate forms of higher education--such as spare-time, part-time, and radio and television universities.

China cannot afford a heavy investment, either ideologically or financially, in the education of a few students. Since 1978 China's leaders have modified the policy of concentrating education resources at the university level, which, although designed to facilitate modernization, conflicted directly with the party's principles. The policies that produced an educated elite also siphoned off resources that might have been used to accomplish the compulsory nine year education more speedily and to equalize educational opportunities in the city and the countryside. The policy of key schools has been modified over the years. Nevertheless, China's leaders believe an educated elite is necessary to reach modernization goals.

China - Education - Modernization Goals in the 1980s

The commitment to the Four Modernizations required great advances in science and technology. Under the modernization program, higher education was to be the cornerstone for training and research. Because modernization depended on a vastly increased and improved capability to train scientists and engineers for needed breakthroughs, the renewed concern for higher education and academic quality--and the central role that the sciences were expected to play in the Four Modernizations--highlighted the need for scientific research and training. This concern can be traced to the critical personnel shortages and qualitative deficiencies in the sciences resulting from the unproductive years of the Cultural Revolution, when higher education was shut down. In response to the need for scientific training, the Sixth Plenum of the Twelfth National Party Congress Central Committee, held in September 1986, adopted a resolution on the guiding principles for building a socialist society that strongly emphasized the importance of education and science.

Reformers realized, however, that the higher education system was far from meeting modernization goals and that additional changes were needed. The Provisional Regulations Concerning the Management of Institutions of Higher Learning, promulgated by the State Council in 1986, initiated vast changes in administration and adjusted educational opportunity, direction, and content. With the increased independence accorded under the education reform, universities and colleges were able to choose their own teaching plans and curricula; to accept projects from or cooperate with other socialist establishments for scientific research and technical development in setting up "combines" involving teaching, scientific research, and production; to suggest appointments and removals of vice presidents and other staff members; to take charge of the distribution of capital construction investment and funds allocated by the state; and to be responsible for the development of international exchanges by using their own funds.

The changes also allowed the universities to accept financial aid from work units and decide how this money was to be used without asking for more money from departments in charge of education. Further, higher education institutions and work units could sign contracts for the training of students.

Higher education institutions also were assigned a greater role in running interregional and interdepartmental schools. Within their state-approved budgets, universities secured more freedom to allocate funds as they saw fit and to use income from tuition and technical and advisory services for their own development, including collective welfare and bonuses.

There also was a renewed interest in television, radio, and correspondence classes. Some of the courses, particularly in the college-run factories, were serious, full-time enterprises, with a two-to three-year curriculum.

Entrance Examinations and Admission Criteria

National examinations to select students for higher education (and positions of leadership) were an important part of China's culture, and, traditionally, entrance to a higher education institution was considered prestigious. Although the examination system for admission to colleges and universities has undergone many changes since the Cultural Revolution, it remains the basis for recruiting academically able students. When higher education institutions were reopened in early 1970s, candidates for entrance examinations had to be senior-middle-school graduates or the equivalent, generally below twenty-six years of age. Work experience requirements were eliminated, but workers and staff members needed permission from their enterprises to take the examinations.

Each provincial-level unit was assigned a quota of students to be admitted to key universities, a second quota of students for regular universities within that administrative division, and a third quota of students from other provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities who would be admitted to institutions operated at the provincial level. Provincial-level administrative units selected students with outstanding records to take the examinations. Additionally, preselection examinations were organized by the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities for potential students (from three to five times the number of places allotted). These candidates were actively encouraged to take the examination to ensure that a sufficient number of good applicants would be available. Cadres with at least two years of work experience were recruited for selected departments in a small number of universities on an experimental basis. Preferential admission treatment (in spite of lower test scores) was given to minority candidates, students from disadvantaged areas, and those who agreed in advance to work in less developed regions after graduation.

In December 1977, when uniform national examinations were reinstated, 5.7 million students took the examinations, although university placement was available for only the 278,000 applicants with the highest scores. In July 1984, about 1.6 million candidates (30,000 fewer than in 1983) took the entrance examinations for the 430,000 places in China's more than 900 colleges and universities. Of the 1.6 million examinees, more than 1 million took the test for placement in science and engineering colleges; 415,000 for places in liberal arts colleges; 88,000 for placement in foreign language institutions; and 15,000 for placement in sports universities and schools. More than 100,000 of the candidates were from national minority groups. A year later, there were approximately 1.8 million students taking the three day college entrance examination to compete for 560,000 places. Liberal arts candidates were tested on politics, Chinese, mathematics, foreign languages, history, and geography. Science and engineering candidates were tested on politics, Chinese, mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Entrance examinations also were given in 1985 for professional and technical schools, which sought to enroll 550,000 new students.

Other innovations in enrollment practices, included allowing colleges and universities to admit students with good academic records but relatively low entrance-examination scores. Some colleges were allowed to try an experimental student recommendation system--fixed at 2 percent of the total enrollment for regular colleges and 5 percent for teachers' colleges--instead of the traditional entrance examination. A minimum national examination score was established for admission to specific departments at specially designated colleges and universities, and the minimum score for admission to other universities was set by provinciallevel authorities. Key universities established separate classes for minorities. When several applicants attained the minimum test score, the school had the option of making a selection, a policy that gave university faculty and administrators a certain amount of discretion but still protected admission according to academic ability.

In addition to the written examination, university applicants had to pass a physical examination and a political screening. Less than 2 percent of the students who passed the written test were eliminated for reasons of poor health. The number disqualified for political reasons was known, but publicly the party maintained that the number was very small and that it sought to ensure that only the most able students actually entered colleges and universities.

By 1985 the number of institutions of higher learning had again increased--to slightly more than 1,000. The State Education Commission and the Ministry of Finance issued a joint declaration for nationwide unified enrollment of adult students--not the regular secondary-school graduates but the members of the work force who qualified for admission by taking a test. The State Education Commission established unified questions and time and evaluation criteria for the test and authorized provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities to administer the test, grade the papers in a uniform manner, and determine the minimum points required for admission. The various schools were to enroll students according to the results. Adult students needed to have the educational equivalent of senior-middle- school graduates, and those applying for release or partial release from work to study were to be under forty years of age. Staff members and workers were to apply to study job-related subjects with review by and approval of their respective work units. If employers paid for the college courses, the workers had to take entrance examinations. In 1985 colleges enrolled 33,000 employees from various enterprises and companies, approximately 6 percent of the total college enrollment.

In 1985 state quotas for university places were set, allowing both for students sponsored by institutions and for those paying their own expenses. This policy was a change from the previous system in which all students were enrolled according to guidelines established in Beijing. All students except those at teachers' colleges, those who had financial difficulties, and those who were to work under adverse conditions after graduation had to pay for their own tuition, accommodations, and miscellaneous expenses.

Changes in Enrollment and Assignment Policies

The student enrollment and graduate assignment system also was changed to reflect more closely the personnel needs of modernization. By 1986 the state was responsible for drafting the enrollment plan, which took into account future personnel demands, the need to recruit students from outlying regions, and the needs of trades and professions with adverse working conditions. Moreover, a certain number of graduates to be trained for the People's Liberation Army were included in the state enrollment plan. In most cases, enrollment in higher education institutions at the employers' request was extended as a supplement to the state student enrollment plan. Employers were to pay a percentage of training fees, and students were to fulfill contractual obligations to the employers after graduation. The small number of students who attended colleges and universities at their own expense could be enrolled in addition to those in the state plan.

Accompanying the changes in enrollment practices were reforms, adopted in 1986, in the faculty appointment system, which ended the "iron rice bowl" employment system and gave colleges and universities freedom to decide what departments, majors, and numbers of teachers they needed. Teachers in institutions of higher learning were hired on a renewable contract basis, usually for two to four years at a time. The teaching positions available on basis were teaching assistant, lecturer, associate professor, and professor. The system was tested in eight major universities in Beijing and Shanghai before it was instituted nationwide at the end of 1985. University presidents headed groups in charge of appointing professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants according to their academic levels and teaching abilities, and a more rational wage system, geared to different job levels, was inaugurated. Universities and colleges with surplus professors and researchers were advised to grant them appropriate academic titles and encourage them to work for their current pay in schools of higher learning where they were needed. The new system was to be extended to schools of all kinds and other education departments within two years.

Under the 1985 reforms, all graduates were assigned jobs by the state; a central government placement agency told the schools where to send graduates. By 1985 Qinghua University and a few other universities were experimenting with a system that allowed graduates to accept job offers or to look for their own positions. For example, of 1,900 Qinghua University graduates in 1985, 1,200 went on to graduate school, 48 looked for their own jobs, and the remainder were assigned jobs by the school after consultation with the students. The college students and postgraduates scheduled to graduate in 1986 were assigned primarily to work in forestry, education, textiles, and the armaments industry. Graduates still were needed in civil engineering, computer science, finance, and English.

Scholarship and Loan System

In July 1986 the State Council announced that the stipend system for university and college students would be replaced with a new scholarship and loan system. The new system, to be tested in selected institutions during the 1986-87 academic year, was designed to help students who could not cover their own living expenses but who studied hard, obeyed state laws, and observed discipline codes. Students eligible for financial aid were to apply to the schools and the China Industrial and Commercial Bank for low-interest loans. Three categories of students eligible for aid were established: top students encouraged to attain all-around excellence; students specializing in education, agriculture, forestry, sports, and marine navigation; and students willing to work in poor, remote, and border regions or under harsh conditions, such as in mining and engineering. In addition, free tuition and board were to be offered at teachers' colleges, and the graduates were required to teach at least five years in primary and middle schools. After graduation, a student's loans were to be paid off by his or her employer in a lump sum, and the money was to be repaid to the employer by the student through five years of payroll deductions.

Study Abroad

In addition to loans, another means of raising educational quality, particularly in science, was to send students abroad to study. A large number of Chinese students studied in the Soviet Union before educational links and other cooperative programs with the Soviet Union were severed in the late 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, China continued to send a small number of students abroad, primarily to European universities. In October 1978 Chinese students began to arrive in the United States; their numbers accelerated after normalization of relations between the two countries in January 1979, a policy consistent with modernization needs. Although figures vary, more than 36,000 students, including 7,000 self-supporting students (those who paid their own way, received scholarships from host institutions, or received help from relatives and "foreign friends"), studied in 14 countries between 1978 and 1984. Of this total, 78 percent were technical personnel sent abroad for advanced study. As of mid-1986 there were 15,000 Chinese scholars and graduates in American universities, compared with the total of 19,000 scholars sent between 1979 and 1983.

Chinese students sent to the United States generally were not typical undergraduates or graduate students but were mid-career scientists, often thirty-five to forty-five years of age, seeking advanced training in their areas of specialization. Often they were individuals of exceptional ability who occupied responsible positions in Chinese universities and research institutions. Fewer than 15 percent of the earliest arrivals were degree candidates. Nearly all the visiting scholars were in scientific fields.


Among the most pressing problems facing education reformers was the scarcity of qualified teachers, which has led to a serious stunting of educational development. In 1986 there were about 8 million primary- and middle-school teachers in China, but many lacked professional training. Estimates indicated that in order to meet the goals of the Seventh Five-Year Plan and realize compulsory 9-year education, the system needed 1 million new teachers for primary schools, 750,000 new teachers for junior middle schools, and 300,000 new teachers for senior middle schools. Estimates predict, however, that the demand for teachers will drop in the late 1990s because of an anticipated decrease in primary-school enrollments.

To cope with the shortage of qualified teachers, the State Education Commission decreed in 1985 that senior-middle-school teachers should be graduates with two years' training in professional institutes and that primary-school teachers should be graduates of secondary schools. To improve teacher quality, the commission established full-time and part-time (the latter preferred because it was less costly) in-service training programs. Primary-school and preschool in-service teacher training programs devoted 84 percent of the time to subject teaching, 6 percent to pedagogy and psychology, and 10 percent to teaching methods. Inservice training for primary-school teachers was designed to raise them to a level of approximately two years' postsecondary study, with the goal of qualifying most primary-school teachers by 1990. Secondary-school in-service teacher training was based on a unified model, tailored to meet local conditions, and offered on a spare-time basis. Ninety-five percent of its curricula was devoted to subject teaching, 2 to 3 percent to pedagogy and psychology, and 2 to 3 percent to teaching methods. There was no similar large-scale in-service effort for technical and vocational teachers, most of whom worked for enterprises and local authorities.

By 1985 there were more than 1,000 teacher training schools--an indispensable tool in the effort to solve the acute shortage of qualified teachers. These schools, however, were unable to supply the number of teachers needed to attain modernization goals through 1990. Although a considerable number of students graduated as qualified teachers from institutions of higher learning, the relatively low social status and salary levels of teachers hampered recruitment, and not all of the graduates of teachers' colleges became teachers. To attract more teachers, China tried to make teaching a more desirable and respected profession. To this end, the government designated September 10 as Teachers' Day, granted teachers pay raises, and made teachers' colleges tuition free. To further arrest the teacher shortage, in 1986 the central government sent teachers to underdeveloped regions to train local schoolteachers.

Because urban teachers continued to earn more than their rural counterparts and because academic standards in the countryside had dropped, it remained difficult to recruit teachers for rural areas. Teachers in rural areas also had production responsibilities for their plots of land, which took time from their teaching. Rural primary teachers needed to supplement their pay by farming because most were paid by the relatively poor local communities rather than by the state.


Role in Modernization

Because only 4 percent of the nation's middle-school graduates are admitted to universities, China has found it necessary to develop other ways of meeting the demand for education. Adult education has become increasingly important in helping China meet its modernization goals. Adult, or "nonformal," education is an alternative form of higher education that encompasses radio, television, and correspondence universities, spare-time and part-time universities, factory-run universities for staff and workers, and county-run universities for peasants, many operating primarily during students' off-work hours. These alternative forms of education are economical. They seek to educate both the "delayed generation"--those who lost educational opportunities during the Cultural Revolution--and to raise the cultural, scientific, and general education levels of workers on the job.

Alternative Forms

Schools have been established by government departments, businesses, trade unions, academic societies, democratic parties, and other organizations. In 1984 about 70 percent of China's factories and enterprises supported their own part-time classes, which often were referred to as workers' colleges. In Beijing alone, more than ninety adult-education schools with night schools enrolled tens of thousands of students. More than 20,000 of these students graduated annually from evening universities, workers' colleges, television universities, and correspondence schools--more than twice the number graduating from regular colleges and universities. The government spent -Y200 to -Y500 per adult education student and at least -1,000 per regular university student. In 1984 approximately 1.3 million students enrolled in television, correspondence, and evening universities, about a 30-percent increase over 1983.

Spare-time education for workers and peasants and literacy classes for the entire adult population were other components of basic education. Spare-time education included a very broad range of educational activities at all levels. Most spare-time schools were sponsored by factories and run for their own workers; they provided fairly elementary education, as well as courses to upgrade technical skills. Most were on-the-job training and retraining courses, a normal part of any industrial system. These schools continually received publicity in the domestic media as a symbol of social justice, but it was unclear whether they received adequate resources to achieve this end.

China's educational television system began in 1960 but was suspended during the Cultural Revolution in 1966. In 1979 the Central Radio and Television University was established in Beijing with branches in twenty-eight provincial-level universities. Many Central Radio and Television University students are recent seniormiddle -school graduates who scored just below the cut-off point for admission to conventional colleges and universities. Full-time (who take four courses) and part-time students (two courses) have at least two years' work experience, and they return to their jobs after graduation. Spare-time students (one course) study after work. Students whose work units grant them permission to study in a television university are paid their normal wages; expenses for most of their books and other educational materials are paid for by the state. A typical Central Radio and Television University student spends up to six hours a day over a three-year period watching lectures on videotapes produced by some of the best teachers in China. These lectures are augmented by face-to-face tutoring by local instructors and approximately four hours of homework each evening. The major problem with the system is that there are too few television sets.

In 1987 the Central Television and Radio University had its programs produced, transmitted and financed by the Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television. The State Education Commission developed its curriculum and distributed its printed support materials. Curriculum included both basic, general-purpose courses in science and technology and more specialized courses. Programs in English-language instruction were particularly popular. The Central Television and Radio University offered more than 1,000 classes in Beijing and its suburbs and 14 majors in 2- to 3-year courses through 56 working centers. Students who passed final examinations were given certificates entitling them to the same level of remuneration as graduates of regular, full-time colleges and universities. The state gave certain allowances to students awaiting jobs during their training period.

Literacy and Language Reform

The continuing campaigns to eradicate illiteracy also were a part of basic education. Chinese government statistics indicated that of a total population of nearly 1.1 billion in 1985, about 230 million people were illiterate or semiliterate. The difficulty of mastering written Chinese makes raising the literacy rate particularly difficult. In general, language reform was intended to make written and spoken Chinese easier to learn, which in turn would foster both literacy and linguistic unity and serve as a foundation for a simpler written language. In 1951 the party issued a directive that inaugurated a three-part plan for language reform. The plan sought to establish universal comprehension of a standardized common language, simplify written characters, and introduce, where possible, romanized forms based on the Latin alphabet. In 1956 putonghua was introduced as the language of instruction in schools and in the national broadcast media, and by 1977 it was in use throughout China, particularly in the government and party, and in education. Although in 1987 the government continued to endorse the goal of universalizing putonghua, hundreds of regional and local dialects continued to be spoken, complicating interregional communication.

A second language reform required the simplification of ideographs because ideographs with fewer strokes are easier to learn. In 1964 the Committee for Reforming the Chinese Written Language released an official list of 2,238 simplified characters most basic to the language. Simplification made literacy easier, although people taught only in simplified characters were cut off from the wealth of Chinese literature written in traditional characters. Any idea of replacing ideographic script with romanized script was soon abandoned, however by government and education leaders.

A third area of change involved the proposal to use the pinyin romanization system more widely. Pinyin (first approved by the National People's Congress in 1958) was encouraged primarily to facilitate the spread of putonghua in regions where other dialects and languages are spoken. By the mid-1980s, however, the use of pinyin was not as widespread as the use of putonghua.

Retaining literacy was as much a problem as acquiring it, particularly among the rural population. Literacy rates declined between 1966 and 1976. Political disorder may have contributed to the decline, but the basic problem was that the many Chinese ideographs can be mastered only through rote learning and are often forgotten because of disuse.



The current status of Chinese intellectuals reflects traditions established in the imperial period. For most of this period, government officials were selected from among the literati on the basis of the Confucian civil service examination system. Intellectuals were both participants in and critics of the government. As Confucian scholars, they were torn between their loyalty to the emperor and their obligation to "correct wrong thinking" when they perceived it. Then, as now, most intellectual and government leaders subscribed to the premise that ideological change was a prerequisite for political change. Historically, Chinese intellectuals rarely formed groups to oppose the established government. Rather, individual intellectuals or groups of intellectuals allied themselves with cliques within the government to lend support to the policies of that clique.

With the abolition of the civil service examination system in 1905 and the end of the last imperial dynasty in 1911, intellectuals no longer had a vehicle for direct participation in the government. Although the absence of a strong national government would have been expected to provide a favorable situation for maximum intellectual independence, other inhibiting factors--such as the concentration of intellectuals in foreigncontrolled treaty ports, isolated from the mainstream of Chinese society, or in universities dependent on government or missionary financing--remained. Probably the greatest obstacle to the development of an intellectual community free of outside control was the rising tide of nationalism coupled with the fear of being accused of selling out to foreign interests. In 1927 the newly established Guomindang government in Nanjing attempted to establish an intellectual orthodoxy based on the ideas of Sun Yat-sen, but intellectuals continued to operate with a certain degree of freedom in universities and treaty ports. Following the Japanese invasion and occupation of large parts of China in 1937, the Guomindang government tightened control over every aspect of life, causing a large number of dissident intellectuals to seek refuge in Communist-administered areas or in Hong Kong.

When the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, intellectuals came under strict government control. Educated overseas Chinese were invited to return home, and those intellectuals who remained in China were urged to contribute their technical expertise to rebuilding the country. Intellectuals were expected to serve the party and the state. Independent thinking was stifled, and political dissent was not tolerated.

In mid-1956 the Chinese Communist Party felt secure enough to launch the Hundred Flowers Campaign soliciting criticism under the classical "double hundred" slogan "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend." "Let a hundred flowers bloom" applied to the development of the arts, and "let the hundred schools of thought contend" encouraged the development of science. The initiation of this campaign was followed by the publication in early 1957 of Mao Zedong's essay "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People," in which he drew a distinction between "constructive criticisms among the people" and "hateful and destructive criticism between the enemy and ourselves." In August 1957, when it was clear to the leadership that widespread criticism of the party and party cadres had gotten out of hand, the Anti-Rightist Campaign was launched to suppress all divergent thought and firmly reestablish orthodox ideology. Writers who had answered the party's invitation to offer criticisms and alternative solutions to China's problems were abruptly silenced, and many were sent to reform camps or internal exile. By the early 1960s, however, a few intellectuals within the party were bold enough to again propose policy alternatives, within stringent limits.

When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, party functionaries assumed positions of leadership at most research institutes and universities, and many schools were closed or converted to "soldiers', workers', and peasants' universities." Intellectuals, denounced as the "stinking ninth category," either were purged or had their work heavily edited for political "purity", which severely hampered most serious research and scholarship.

Following the fall of Lin Biao, Minister of National Defense and Mao's heir apparent, in 1971, the atmosphere for intellectuals began to improve. Under the aegis of Zhou Enlai and later Deng Xiaoping, many intellectuals were restored to their former positions and warily resumed their pre-Cultural Revolution duties. In January 1975 Zhou Enlai set out his ambitious Four Modernizations program and solicited the support of China's intellectuals in turning China into a modern industrialized nation by the end of the century.

Post-Mao Development

The Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978 officially made the Four Modernizations basic national policy and reemphasized the importance of intellectuals in achieving them. The policy of "seeking truth from facts" was stressed, and scholars and researchers were given freer rein to pursue scientific research. Most mainstream intellectuals were content to avoid political involvement and to take on the role of scholar- specialists within their spheres of competence, with the understanding that as long as they observed the four cardinal principles--upholding socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the leadership of the party, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought--they would be permitted to conduct their research with minimal bureaucratic interference. This was accomplished more easily in the natural sciences, which are generally recognized as apolitical, than in the social sciences, humanities, and the arts.

The first serious challenge to the more tolerant policy toward intellectuals came in 1980, as conservative ideologues in the military and the party stepped up their calls to combat "bourgeois liberalization," a loosely defined appellation for any writing or activity believed to stretch the limits of the four cardinal principles. By early 1981 opposition to "bourgeois liberalization" was focused on Bai Hua, a writer with the Political Department of what was then the Wuhan Military Region. Bai had long been a strong advocate for relaxation of cultural and social policy, but what especially alarmed the guardians of cultural orthodoxy was his screenplay "Bitter Love," which depicted the frustrated patriotism of an old painter who faces misunderstanding and ill-treatment when he returns to China from the United States. When the screenplay first appeared in a nationally circulated literary magazine in the fall of 1979, it caused little stir. The motion picture version however, which was shown to selected officials, drew strong censure. A commentary in the April 18, 1981, issue of Jiefangjun Bao (Liberation Army Daily) accused Bai Hua of violating the four cardinal principles and described the screenplay as an example of "bourgeois liberalism." The commentary was reprinted in the next month's issue of Jiefangjun Wenyi (Liberation Army Literature and Art), along with other articles critical of "Bitter Love." Over the next few months the criticism was taken up by most civilian newspapers, and acting minister of culture, Zhou Weizhi, singled out "Bitter Love" for attack in a speech delivered to the Twentieth Session of the Fifth National People's Congress Standing Committee in September. Finally, Bai Hua yielded to the ostracism and wrote a letter of self-criticism addressed to Jiefangjun Bao and Wenyibao (Literary Gazette), in which he apologized for a "lack of balance" in "Bitter Love" and for failing to recognize the power of the party and the people to overcome obstacles in Chinese society. Bai Hua was out of public view for the next year but remained active, writing four short stories in the period. In January 1983 he was invited by the Ministry of Culture to participate in a Shanghai conference on film scripts, and in May of that year the Beijing People's Art Theater presented his new historical play, "The King of Wu's Golden Spear and the King of Yue's Sword," thought by many to be a veiled criticism of Mao Zedong and perhaps even of Deng Xiaoping. Although the "Bitter Love" controversy caused considerable anxiety in the intellectual community, it is as noteworthy for what it did not do as for what it did do. Unlike previous campaigns in which writers and all of their works were condemned, criticism in this case focused on one work, "Bitter Love." Neither Bai Hua's other works nor his political difficulties in the 1950s and 1960s were part of the discussion. In fact, as if to emphasize the limited nature of the campaign, at its height in May 1981 Bai was given a national prize for poetry by the Chinese Writers' Association.

After a mild respite in 1982 and most of 1983, "antibourgeois liberalism" returned in full force in the short-lived campaign against "spiritual pollution" launched by a speech given by Deng Xiaoping at the Second Plenum of the Twelfth National Party Congress Central Committee in October 1983. In the speech, Deng inveighed against advocates of abstract theories of human nature, "bourgeois humanitarianism," "bourgeois liberalism," and socialist alienation, as well as the growing fascination in China with "decadent elements" from Western culture. Conservatives, led by Political Bureau member Hu Qiaomu and party Propaganda Department head Deng Liqun, used the campaign in an effort to oppose those aspects of society that they disliked. The campaign soon was out of control and extended to areas beyond the scope that Deng Xiaoping had intended, raising fears at home and abroad of another Cultural Revolution.

Because of the campaign against spiritual pollution, intellectuals (including scientists and managerial and technical personnel) and party and government cadres were hesitant to take any action that could expose them to criticism. Peasants, whose production had greatly increased under the responsibility system adopted in 1981, felt uncertain about the future course of central policy. Because of this, many of them returned their specialized certificates and contracts to local authorities, sold their equipment, and lowered production targets. Many ordinary citizens, especially the young, resented the sudden interference in their private lives. Foreign businessmen and government leaders expressed serious reservations about the investment climate and China's policy of opening to the world.

Because of these adverse results, the central leadership reevaluated the campaign and limited it to theoretical, literary, and artistic circles and did not permit it to extend to science and technology, the economy, or rural areas. All ideological, theoretical, literary, and artistic issues were to be settled through discussion, criticism, and self-criticism, without resorting to labeling or attacks. By January 1984 the campaign against spiritual pollution had died out, and attention was once more turned to reducing leftist influence in government and society.

Following the campaign's failure, and perhaps because of it, the position and security of intellectuals improved significantly. In 1984 the party and government turned their attention to promoting urban economic reforms. A more positive approach to academic and cultural pursuits was reflected in periodic exhortations in the official press calling on the people to support and encourage the building of "socialist spiritual civilization," a term used to denote general intellectual activity, including ethics and morality, science, and culture.

Writers and other intellectuals were heartened by a speech delivered by Hu Qili, secretary of the party Secretariat, to the Fourth National Writers' Congress (December 29, 1984, to January 5, 1985). In the speech, Hu decried the political excesses that produced derogatory labels and decrees about what writers should and should not write and called literary freedom "a vital part of socialist literature." But as writers began to test the limits of the free expression called for by Hu Qili, they were reminded of their "social responsibilities," a thinly veiled warning for them to use self-censorship and to remain within the limits of free expression.

These limits, still poorly defined, were tested once again when Song Longxian, a young researcher at Nanjing University, using the pseudonym Ma Ding, published an article entitled "Ten Changes in Contemporary Chinese Economic Research" in the November 2, 1985, issue of the trade union paper Gongren Ribao (Workers' Daily). The article urged a pragmatic approach to economic theory and sharply attacked much previous economic research. A somewhat toned-downed version was republished in a subsequent issue of Beijing Review, a weekly magazine for foreign readers, and immediately became the center of a controversy continuing well into 1986. Ma Ding's supporters, however, far outnumbered his critics and included some important government officials. In May 1986 the editor of Gongren Ribao, writing in another economic journal, summed up the controversy. He termed the criticism of the article of far greater significance than the article itself and commended the "related departments" for handling the "Ma Ding incident very prudently" and "relatively satisfactorily," but he expressed the hope that "more people in our country, particularly leaders," would join in "providing powerful protection to the theoretical workers who are brave enough to explore."

In 1986 there were numerous calls for a new Hundred Flowers Campaign, and there were indications that these calls were being orchestrated from the top. At a May 1986 conference to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the original Hundred Flowers Campaign, Zhu Houze, new head of the party's Propaganda Department, sounded the keynote when he said, "Only through the comparison and contention of different viewpoints and ideas can people gradually arrive at a truthful understanding. . . ." Qin Jianxian, editor of Shijie Jingji Daobao (World Economic Journal), carried this theme further when he called for "unprecedented shocks to political, economic, and social life as well as to people's ideas, spiritual state, lifestyle, and thinking methods." In a July 1986 interview with Beijing Review, Wang Meng, the newly appointed minister of culture, held out great expectations for a new Hundred Flowers Campaign that he said "could arouse the enthusiasm of writers and artists and give them the leeway to display their individual artistic character." During the summer of 1986, expectations were raised for a resolution to come out of the Sixth Plenum of the Twelfth National Party Congress Central Committee in September, a resolution that General Secretary Hu Yaobang promised would have a "profound influence on the development of spiritual civilization." The actual document, however, was a watered-down compromise that fell far short of expectations. It became clear that intellectual policy is not a matter to be easily resolved in the short-term but requires lengthy debate.

China - Traditional Literature


China has a wealth of classical literature, both poetry and prose, dating from the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 B.C.) and including the Classics attributed to Confucius. Among the most important classics in Chinese literature is the Yijing (Book of Changes), a manual of divination based on eight trigrams attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi. (By Confucius' time these eight trigrams had been multiplied to sixty-four hexagrams.) The Yijing is still used by adherents of folk religion. The Shijing (Classic of Poetry) is made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs; 74 minor festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities; 31 major festal songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies; and 40 hymns and eulogies, sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house. The Shujing (Classic of Documents) is a collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains the best examples of early Chinese prose. The Liji (Record of Rites), a restoration of the original Lijing (Classic of Rites), lost in the third century B.C., describes ancient rites and court ceremonies. The Chun Qiu (Spring and Autumn) is a historical record of the principality of Lu, Confucius' native state, from 722 to 479 B.C. It is a log of concise entries probably compiled by Confucius himself. The Lunyu (Analects) is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples.

Early Prose

The proponents of the Hundred Schools of Thought in the Warring States and Spring and Autumn periods made important contributions to Chinese prose style. The writings of Mo Zi (Mo Di, 470-391 B.C.?), Mencius (Meng Zi; 372-289 B.C.), and Zhuang Zi (369-286 B.C.) contain well-reasoned, carefully developed discourses and show a marked improvement in organization and style over what went before. Mo Zi is known for extensively and effectively using methodological reasoning in his polemic prose. Mencius contributed elegant diction and, along with Zhuang Zi, is known for his extensive use of comparisons, anecdotes, and allegories. By the third century B.C., these writers had developed a simple, concise prose noted for its economy of words, which served as a model of literary form for over 2,000 years.

Early Poetry

Among the earliest and most influential poetic anthologies was the Chuci (Songs of Chu), made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semilegendary Qu Yuan (ca. 340-278 B.C.) and his follower Song Yu (fourth century B.C.). The songs in this collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Shijing. During the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), this form evolved into the fu, a poem usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and answers. The era of disunity that followed the Han period saw the rise of romantic nature poetry heavily influenced by Taoism.

Classical poetry reached its zenith during the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The early Tang period was best known for its lushi (regulated verse), an eight-line poem with five or seven words in each line; zi (verse following strict rules of prosody); and jueju (truncated verse), a four-line poem with five or seven words in each line. The two best-known poets of the period were Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770). Li Bai was known for the romanticism of his poetry; Du Fu was seen as a Confucian moralist with a strict sense of duty toward society.

Later Tang poets developed greater realism and social criticism and refined the art of narration. One of the best known of the later Tang poets was Bai Juyi (772-846), whose poems were an inspired and critical comment on the society of his time.

Subsequent writers of classical poetry lived under the shadow of their great Tang predecessors, and although there were many fine poets in subsequent dynasties, none reached the level of this period. As the classical style of poetry became more stultified, a more flexible poetic medium, the ci, arrived on the scene. The ci, a poetic form based on the tunes of popular songs, some of Central Asian origin, was developed to its fullest by the poets of the Song dynasty (960-1279).

As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial after Song times, the san qu, a freer form, based on new popular songs, developed. The use of san qu songs in drama marked an important step in the development of vernacular literature.

Later Prose

The Tang period also saw a rejection of the ornate, artificial style of prose developed in the previous period and the emergence of a simple, direct, and forceful prose based on Han and pre-Han writing. The primary proponent of this neoclassical style of prose, which heavily influenced prose writing for the next 800 years, was Han Yu (768-824), a master essayist and strong advocate of a return to Confucian orthodoxy.

Vernacular fiction became popular after the fourteenth century, although it was never esteemed in court circles. Covering a broader range of subject matter and longer and less highly structured than literary fiction, vernacular fiction includes a number of masterpieces. The greatest is the eighteenth-century domestic novel Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber). A semiautobiographical work by a scion of a declining gentry family, Hong Lou Meng has been acknowledged by students of Chinese fiction to be the masterwork of its type.

Modern Prose

In the New Culture Movement (1917-23), literary writing style was largely replaced by the vernacular in all areas of literature. This was brought about mainly by Lu Xun (1881-1936), China's first major stylist in vernacular prose (other than the novel), and the literary reformers Hu Shi (1891-1962) and Chen Duxiu (1880-1942).

The late 1920s and 1930s were years of creativity in Chinese fiction, and literary journals and societies espousing various artistic theories proliferated. Among the major writers of the period were Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a poet, historian, essayist, and critic; Mao Dun (1896-1981), the first of the novelists to emerge from the League of Left-Wing Writers and one whose work reflected the revolutionary struggle and disillusionment of the late 1920s; and Ba Jin (b. 1904), a novelist whose work was influenced by Ivan Turgenev and other Russian writers. In the 1930s Ba Jin produced a trilogy that depicted the struggle of modern youth against the ageold dominance of the Confucian family system. Comparison often is made between Jia (Family), one of the novels in the trilogy, and Hong Lou Meng. Another writer of the period was the gifted satirist and novelist Lao She (1899-1966). Many of these writers became important as administrators of artistic and literary policy after 1949. Most of those still alive during the Cultural Revolution were either purged or forced to submit to public humiliation.

The League of Left-Wing Writers was founded in 1930 and included Lu Xun in its leadership. By 1932 it had adopted the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism, that is, the insistence that art must concentrate on contemporary events in a realistic way, exposing the ills of nonsocialist society and promoting the glorious future under communism. After 1949 socialist realism, based on Mao's famous 1942 "Yan'an Talks on Literature and Art," became the uniform style of Chinese authors whose works were published. Conflict, however, soon developed between the government and the writers. The ability to satirize and expose the evils in contemporary society that had made writers useful to the Chinese Communist Party before its accession to power was no longer welcomed. Even more unwelcome to the party was the persistence among writers of what was deplored as "petty bourgeois idealism," "humanitarianism," and an insistence on freedom to choose subject matter.

At the time of the Great Leap Forward, the government increased its insistence on the use of socialist realism and combined with it so-called revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism. Authors were permitted to write about contemporary China, as well as other times during China's modern period--as long as it was accomplished with the desired socialist revolutionary realism. Nonetheless, the political restrictions discouraged many writers. Although authors were encouraged to write, production of literature fell off to the point that in 1962 only forty-two novels were published.

During the Cultural Revolution, the repression and intimidation led by Mao's fourth wife, Jiang Qing, succeeded in drying up all cultural activity except a few "model" operas and heroic stories. Although it has since been learned that some writers continued to produce in secret, during that period no significant literary work was published.

China - Literature in the Post-Mao Period

The arrest of Jiang Qing and the other members of the Gang of Four in 1976, and especially the reforms initiated at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978, led more and more older writers and some younger writers to take up their pens again. Much of the literature discussed the serious abuses of power that had taken place at both the national and the local levels during the Cultural Revolution. The writers decried the waste of time and talent during that decade and bemoaned abuses that had held China back. At the same time, the writers expressed eagerness to make a contribution to building Chinese society. This literature, often called "the literature of the wounded," contained some disquieting views of the party and the political system. Intensely patriotic, these authors wrote cynically of the political leadership that gave rise to the extreme chaos and disorder of the Cultural Revolution. Some of them extended the blame to the entire generation of leaders and to the political system itself. The political authorities were faced with a serious problem: how could they encourage writers to criticize and discredit the abuses of the Cultural Revolution without allowing that criticism to go beyond what they considered tolerable limits?

During this period, a large number of novels and short stories were published; literary magazines from before the Cultural Revolution were revived, and new ones were added to satisfy the seemingly insatiable appetite of the reading public. There was a special interest in foreign works. Linguists were commissioned to translate recently published foreign literature, often without carefully considering its interest for the Chinese reader. Literary magazines specializing in translations of foreign short stories became very popular, especially among the young.

It is not surprising that such dramatic change brought objections from some leaders in government and literary and art circles, who feared it was happening too fast. The first reaction came in 1980 with calls to combat "bourgeois liberalism," a campaign that was repeated in 1981. These two difficult periods were followed by the campaign against spiritual pollution in late 1983, but by 1986 writers were again enjoying greater creative freedom.

China - Traditional Arts


Traditional drama, often called "Chinese opera," grew out of the zaju (variety plays) of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and continues to exist in 368 different forms, the best known of which is Beijing Opera, which assumed its present form in the midnineteenth century and was extremely popular in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court. In Beijing Opera, traditional Chinese string and percussion instruments provide a strong rhythmic accompaniment to the acting. The acting is based on allusion: gestures, footwork, and other body movements express such actions as riding a horse, rowing a boat, or opening a door. Spoken dialogue is divided into recitative and Beijing colloquial speech, the former employed by serious characters and the latter by young females and clowns. Character roles are strictly defined. The traditional repertoire of Beijing Opera includes more than 1,000 works, mostly taken from historical novels about political and military struggles.

In the early years of the People's Republic, the development of Beijing Opera was encouraged; many new operas on historical and modern themes were written, and earlier operas continued to be performed. As a popular art form, opera has usually been the first of the arts to reflect changes in Chinese policy. In the mid-1950s, for example, it was the first to benefit under the Hundred Flowers Campaign. Similarly, the attack in November 1965 on Beijing deputy mayor Wu Han and his historical play, "Hai Rui's Dismissal from Office," signaled the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, most opera troupes were disbanded, performers and scriptwriters were persecuted, and all operas except the eight "model operas" approved by Jiang Qing and her associates were banned. After the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Beijing Opera enjoyed a revival and continued to be a very popular form of entertainment both in theaters and on television.

In traditional Chinese theater, no plays were performed in the vernacular or without singing. But at the turn of the twentieth century, Chinese students returning from abroad began to experiment with Western plays. Following the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a number of Western plays were staged in China, and Chinese playwrights began to imitate this form. The most notable of the new-style playwrights was Cao Yu (b. 1910). His major works-- "Thunderstorm," "Sunrise," "Wilderness," and "Peking Man"--written between 1934 and 1940, have been widely read in China.

In the 1930s, theatrical productions performed by traveling Red Army cultural troupes in Communist-controlled areas were consciously used to promote party goals and political philosophy. By the 1940s theater was well-established in the Communistcontrolled areas.

In the early years of the People's Republic, Western-style theater was presented mainly in the form of "socialist realism." During the Cultural Revolution, however, Western-style plays were condemned as "dead drama" and "poisonous weeds" and were not performed.

Following the Cultural Revolution, Western-style theater experienced a revival. Many new works appeared, and revised and banned plays from China and abroad were reinstated in the national repertoire. Many of the new plays strained at the limits of creative freedom and were alternately commended and condemned, depending on the political atmosphere. One of the most outspoken of the new breed of playwrights was Sha Yexin. His controversial play "The Imposter," which dealt harshly with the favoritism and perquisites accorded party members, was first produced in 1979. In early 1980 the play was roundly criticized by Secretary General Hu Yaobang--the first public intervention in the arts since the Cultural Revolution. In the campaign against bourgeois liberalism in 1981 and the antispiritual pollution campaign in 1983, Sha and his works were again criticized. Through it all Sha continued to write for the stage and to defend himself and his works in the press. In late 1985 Sha Yexin was accepted into the Chinese Communist Party and appointed head of the Shanghai People's Art Theater, where he continued to produce controversial plays.

China - Music

Chinese music appears to date back to the dawn of Chinese civilization, and documents and artifacts provide evidence of a well-developed musical culture as early as the Zhou dynasty (1027- 221 B.C.). The Imperial Music Bureau, first established in the Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.), was greatly expanded under the Han emperor Wu Di (140-87 B.C.) and charged with supervising court music and military music and determining what folk music would be officially recognized. In subsequent dynasties, the development of Chinese music was strongly influenced by foreign music, especially that of Central Asia.

Chinese vocal music has traditionally been sung in a thin, nonresonant voice or in falsetto and is usually solo rather than choral. All traditional Chinese music is melodic rather than harmonic. Instrumental music is played on solo instruments or in small ensembles of plucked and bowed stringed instruments, flutes, and various cymbals, gongs, and drums. The scale has five notes.

The New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 1920s evoked a great deal of lasting interest in Western music as a number of Chinese musicians who had studied abroad returned to perform Western classical music and to compose works of their own based on the Western musical notation system. Symphony orchestras were formed in most major cities and performed to a wide audience in the concert halls and on radio. Popular music--greatly influenced by Western music, especially that of the United States--also gained a wide audience in the 1940s. After the 1942 Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art, a large-scale campaign was launched in the Communistcontrolled areas to adapt folk music to create revolutionary songs to educate the largely illiterate rural population on party goals.

After the establishment of the People's Republic, revolutionary songs continued to be performed, and much of the remainder of popular music consisted of popular songs from the Soviet Union with the lyrics translated into Chinese. Symphony orchestras flourished throughout the country, performing Western classical music and compositions by Chinese composers. Conservatories and other institutions of musical instruction were developed and expanded in the major cities. A number of orchestras from Eastern Europe performed in China, and Chinese musicians and musical groups participated in a wide variety of international festivals.

During the height of the Cultural Revolution, musical composition and performance were greatly restricted. After the Cultural Revolution, musical institutions were reinstated and musical composition and performance revived. In 1980 the Chinese Musicians' Association was formally elected to the International Musicological Society. Chinese musical groups toured foreign countries, and foreign musical organizations performed in China. In the mid-1980s popular ballads and Western folk and classical music still drew the greatest audiences, but other kinds of music, including previously banned Western jazz and rock and roll, were being performed and were receiving increasing acceptance, especially among young people.

China - Painting and Calligraphy

In imperial times, painting and calligraphy were the most highly appreciated arts in court circles and were produced almost exclusively by amateurs--aristocrats and scholar-officials--who alone had the leisure to perfect the technique and sensibility necessary for great brushwork. Calligraphy was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. The implements were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks made from pine soot and animal glue. In ancient times, writing, as well as painting, was done on silk. But after the invention of paper in the first century A.D., silk was gradually replaced by the new and cheaper material. Original writings by famous calligraphers have been greatly valued throughout China's history and are mounted on scrolls and hung on walls in the same way that paintings are.

Painting in the traditional style involves essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and is done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink; oils are not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings are made are paper and silk. The finished work is then mounted on scrolls, which can be hung or rolled up. Traditional painting also is done in albums and on walls, lacquerwork, and other media.

Beginning in the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907), the primary subject matter of painting was the landscape, known as shanshui (mountain-water) painting. In these landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse, the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance of nature but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere so as to catch the "rhythm" of nature. In Song dynasty (960-1279) times, landscapes of more subtle expression appeared; immeasurable distances were conveyed through the use of blurred outlines, mountain contours disappearing into the mist, and impressionistic treatment of natural phenomena. Emphasis was placed on the spiritual qualities of the painting and on the ability of the artist to reveal the inner harmony of man and nature, as perceived according to Taoist and Buddhist concepts.

Beginning in the thirteenth century, there developed a tradition of painting simple subjects--a branch with fruit, a few flowers, or one or two horses. Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much busier composition than the Song painting, was immensely popular at the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

During the Ming period, the first books illustrated with colored woodcuts appeared. As the techniques of color printing were perfected, illustrated manuals on the art of painting began to be published. Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden), a five-volume work first published in 1679, has been in use as a technical textbook for artists and students ever since.

Beginning with the New Culture Movement, Chinese artists started to adopt Western techniques. It also was during this time that oil painting was introduced to China.

In the early years of the People's Republic, artists were encouraged to employ socialist realism. Some Soviet socialist realism was imported without modification, and painters were assigned subjects and expected to mass-produce paintings. This regimen was considerably relaxed in 1953, and after the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, traditional Chinese painting experienced a significant revival. Along with these developments in professional art circles, there was a proliferation of peasant art depicting everyday life in the rural areas on wall murals and in open-air painting exhibitions.

During the Cultural Revolution, art schools were closed, and publication of art journals and major art exhibitions ceased. Nevertheless, amateur art continued to flourish throughout this period.

Following the Cultural Revolution, art schools and professional organizations were reinstated. Exchanges were set up with groups of foreign artists, and Chinese artists began to experiment with new subjects and techniques.

China - Contemporary Performing Arts

Motion Pictures

Motion pictures were introduced to China in 1896, but the film industry was not started until 1917. During the 1920s film technicians from the United States trained Chinese technicians in Shanghai, an early filmmaking center, and American influence continued to be felt there for the next two decades. In the 1930s and 1940s, several socially and politically important films were produced.

The film industry continued to develop after 1949. In the 17 years between the founding of the People's Republic and the Cultural Revolution, 603 feature films and 8,342 reels of documentaries and newsreels were produced. The first wide-screen film was produced in 1960. Animated films using a variety of folk arts, such as papercuts, shadow plays, puppetry, and traditional paintings, also were very popular for entertaining and educating children.

During the Cultural Revolution, the film industry was severely restricted. Most previous films were banned, and only a few new ones were produced. In the years immediately following the Cultural Revolution, the film industry again flourished as a medium of popular entertainment. Domestically produced films played to large audiences, and tickets for foreign film festivals sold quickly.

In the 1980s the film industry fell on hard times, faced with the dual problems of competition from other forms of entertainment and concern on the part of the authorities that many of the popular thriller and martial arts films were socially unacceptable. In January 1986 the film industry was transferred from the Ministry of Culture to the newly formed Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television to bring it under "stricter control and management" and to "strengthen supervision over production."

China - Radio and Television

Radio and television expanded rapidly in the 1980s as important means of mass communication and popular entertainment. By 1985 radio reached 75 percent of the population through 167 radio stations, 215 million radios, and a vast wired loudspeaker system. Television, growing at an even more rapid rate, reached two-thirds of the population through more than 104 stations (up from 52 in 1984 and 44 in 1983); an estimated 85 percent of the urban population had access to television. As radio and television stations grew, the content of the programming changed drastically from the political lectures and statistical lists of the previous period. Typical radio listening included soap operas based on popular novels and a variety of Chinese and foreign music. Most television shows were entertainment, including feature films, sports, drama, music, dance, and children's programming. In 1985 a survey of a typical week of television programming made by the Shanghai publication Wuxiandian Yu Dianshi (Journal of Radio and Television) revealed that more than half of the programming could be termed entertainment; education made up 24 percent of the remainder of the programming and news 15 percent. A wide cross section of international news was presented each evening. Most news broadcasts were borrowed from foreign news organizations, and a Chinese summary was dubbed over. China Central Television also contracted with several foreign broadcasters for entertainment programs. Between 1982 and 1985, six United States television companies signed agreements to provide American programs to China.

China - Folk and Variety Arts

Folk and variety arts have a long history in China. One of the oldest forms of folk art is puppetry. Puppeteers use various kinds of puppets, including marionettes, rod puppets, cloth puppets, and wire puppets in performances incorporating folk songs and dances and some dialogues. The subject matter is derived mainly from children's stories and fables. The shadow play is a form of puppetry that is performed by moving figures made of animal skins or cardboard held behind a screen lit by lamplight. The subject matter and singing style in shadow plays are closely related to local opera. Another popular folk art is the quyi, which consists of various kinds of storytelling and comic monologues and dialogues, often to the accompaniment of clappers, drums, or stringed instruments.

Variety arts, including tightrope walking, acrobatics, animal acts, and sleight of hand date back at least as far as the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and were very popular in the imperial court. Later, many of these feats were incorporated into the traditional theater, and they continued to be performed by itinerant troupes. As these troupes traveled around the countryside, they developed and enriched their repertoire. Since 1949 these art forms have gained new respectability. Troupes have been established in the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities, and theaters specifically dedicated to the variety arts have been built in major cities. Some troupes have become world famous, playing to packed houses at home and on foreign tours.

China - Publishing


Publishing in China dates from the invention of woodblock printing around the eighth century A.D. and was greatly expanded with the invention of movable clay type in the eleventh century. From the tenth to the twelfth century, Kaifeng, Meishan, Hangzhou, and Jianyang were major printing centers. In the nineteenth century, China acquired movable lead type and photogravure printing plates and entered the age of modern book and magazine printing. The largest of the early publishing houses were the Commercial Press (Shangwu Yinshuguan), established in 1897, and the China Publishing House (Zhonghua Shuju), established in 1912, both of which were still operating in 1987. Following the May Fourth Movement of 1919, publishers, especially those associated with various groups of intellectuals, proliferated. During the Chinese civil war, New China Booksellers (Xinhua Shudian) published a large amount of Marxist literature and educational materials in the communist-controlled areas. On the eve of the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, there were over 700 New China Booksellers offices.

Between 1949 and 1952, the New China Booksellers offices scattered throughout the country were nationalized and given responsibility publishing, printing, and distribution. Also, several small private publishers were brought under joint stateprivate ownership, and by 1956 all private publishers had been nationalized. After a brief flourishing during the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, the publishing industry came under strong political pressure in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957. The industry had not fully recovered from this campaign when it was plunged into the Cultural Revolution, a period in which publishing was severely curtailed and limited mainly to political tracts supporting various campaigns. Following the Cultural Revolution, publishing again flourished in unprecedented ways. In 1982 the China National Publishing Administration, the umbrella organization of Chinese publishers, was placed under the Ministry of Culture, but actual management of the industry was directed through four systems of administration: direct state administration; administration by committees or organizations of the State Council or the party Central Committee; armed forces administration; and administration by provinces, autonomous regions, or special municipalities.

In 1984 statistics showed that 17 of the country's 418 publishing establishments were in Shanghai, whereas Beijing was home to 160 publishers. In 1985 plans were announced to foster the growth of the publishing industry in Chongqing, Xi'an, Wuhan, and Shenyang to take some of the workload from Beijing and Shanghai.

Different publishers were assigned to specific kinds of publications. For example, the People's Publishing House was responsible for publishing works on politics, philosophy, and the social sciences; the People's Literature Publishing House produced ancient and modern Chinese and foreign literature and literary history and theory; the China Publishing House had the principal responsibility for collating and publishing Chinese classical literary, historical, and philosophical works; and the Commercial Press was the principal publisher of Chinese-to-foreign-language reference works and translations of foreign works in the social sciences. Other publishers dealt with works in specialized fields of science.

In addition to the routine method of distributing books to bookstores in major cities, other methods of distribution were devised to meet the special needs of readers in urban and rural areas throughout the country. Mobile bookshops made regular visits to factories, mines, rural villages, and People's Liberation Army units, and service was provided in those locations through which individuals could request books. Arrangements were made with the libraries of educational institutions and enterprises to supply them with the books that they required, and books specifically applicable to certain industries were systematically recommended and provided to the departments concerned. Also, book fairs and exhibits frequently were provided at meetings and in public parks on holidays and other special occasions.


In 1987 China had two news agencies, the Xinhua (New China) News Agency and the China News Service (Zhongguo Xinwenshe). Xinhua was the major source of news and photographs for central and local newspapers. The party's newspapers Renmin Ribao (People's Daily) and Guangming Ribao (Enlightenment Daily), and the People's Liberation Army's Jiefangjun Bao (Liberation Army Daily) continued to have the largest circulation. In addition to these major party and army organs, most professional and scientific organizations published newspapers or journals containing specialized information in fields as varied as astronomy and entomology. Local morning and evening newspapers concentrating on news and feature stories about local people and events were extremely popular, selling out each day shortly after they arrived at the newsstands. In June 1981 the English-language China Daily began publication. This newspaper, which was provided for foreigners living or traveling in China but which also was read by a large number of Chinese literate in English, offered international news and sports from the major foreign wire services as well as interesting domestic news and feature articles. Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News), an official news organ that carried foreign news items in Chinese translation, was available to cadres and their families. In 1980 it enjoyed a circulation of 11 million, but, with the subsequent proliferation of other news sources, its circulation dropped to 4 million in 1985, causing the subscription policy to be changed to make it available to all Chinese. Another source of foreign reporting was Cankao Ziliao (Reference Information), a more restricted Chinese reprint of foreign reportage available only to middle- and upper-level cadres. Both of these publications often included foreign reports critical of China.

China - Libraries and Archives

Very early in Chinese civilization, scholars had extensive private libraries, and all of the imperial dynasties constructed libraries and archives to house literary treasures and official records. The first modern libraries, however, did not appear in China until the late nineteenth century; even then, library service grew slowly and sporadically. In 1949 there were only fifty-five public libraries at the county level and above, most concentrated in major coastal commercial centers.

Following the founding of the People's Republic, government and education leaders strove to develop library services and make them available throughout the country. The National Book Coordination Act of 1957 authorized the establishment of two national library centers, one in Beijing and the other in <"http://worldfacts.us/China-Shanghai.htm">Shanghai, and nine regional library networks. Even so, libraries still were scarce, and those facilities that were available were cramped and offered only rudimentary services. Seeing the lack of libraries as a major impediment to modernization efforts, government leaders in the early 1980s took special interest in the development of library services. The special concentration of funds and talent began to produce significant results. By 1986 China had over 200,000 libraries, including a national library and various public, educational, scientific, and military libraries. More than forty Chinese institutions of higher learning also had established library-science or information-science departments. There were more than 2,300 public libraries at the county level and above, containing nearly 256 million volumes, and below the county level some 53,000 cultural centers included a small library or reading room.

The country's main library, the National Library of China, housed a rich collection of books, periodicals, newspapers, maps, prints, photographs, manuscripts, microforms, tape recordings, and inscriptions on bronze, stone, bones, and tortoiseshells. In 1987 a new National Library building, one of the world's largest library structures, was completed in the western suburbs.

The Shanghai Municipal Library, one of the largest public libraries in the country, contained over 7 million volumes, nearly 1 million of which were in foreign languages. The Beijing University Library took over the collections of the Yanjing University Library in 1950 and by the mid-1980s--with more than 3 million volumes, one-fourth of them in foreign languages--was one of the best university libraries in the country.

On the basis of the General Rules for Archives published in 1983, historical archives were being expanded at the provincial and county levels. Two of the most important archives were the Number One Historical Archives of China, located in Beijing containing the archives of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the Number Two Historical Archives of China, located in Nanjing containing the archives of the Guomindang period. A number of foreign scholars have been granted access to these archives. In 1987 public and research libraries still faced serious space, management, and service problems. Even with the special efforts being made to solve these problems, it was clear that they would not be quickly resolved.

In the late 1980s, China was experiencing an active educational and cultural life. Students were staying in school longer, educational standards were being raised, and facilities were being improved. Intellectuals were encouraged to develop their expertise, especially in the scientific and technical spheres, and a wide variety of traditional and foreign literary and art forms were allowed to flourish. This situation was likely to continue as long as it served the interest of economic modernization and posed no threat to the political establishment.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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