Is China turning into a welfare state?

Lily Lin 10/04/2018

In an excerpt from Gosta Esping-Andersen’s The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, he first discusses the three types of welfare-state regimes: the “liberal” welfare state, the “corporatist” welfare state, and the “social democratic” welfare state. He demonstrates the complexity of finding the causation for such division, but three factors in particular are important: the nature of class mobilization; class-political coalition structures; and the historical legacy of regime institutionalization. (1)

The article “Beijing to ‘guarantee’ funding for health care, education and pensions in China’s poorest regions”, published on South China Morning Post in February, discusses that the government will set the nationwide minimum standards for basic public services, which makes the central government responsible for the financial burden of those programs in the country’s poorest provinces. (2) Under the existing system, most of the money for welfare and social services are from the provincial authorities, that’s why most of the underprivileged areas are often underfunded. There are a lot of critiques on how effectively this plan can tackle inequality in China, most of them are concerning about migrant workers and poor infrastructure in the rural areas.

How can “social democratic” regimes be achieved? What are some of the prerequisites for a social democratic welfare states?

The plan Beijing proposed seems to be a “social” welfare plan, based on its guarantee on funding for the poorest regions. The social rights and insurance are not directly linked to employment. However, on a second look, the difference between the urban-employed and the rest of the population including rural residents and unsalaried urban residents are implied in their accessible infrastructure, suggesting its “corporatist” nature. There is some degree of corporatism in China’s insurance system in forms of supplementary company-based insurance and a supplementary scheme for civil servants and government employees. An important feature in the “social” welfare states is full employment and minimal social issues. China has a pretty low unemployment rate but a huge population with even increasing social issues, it needs structural reforms. Throwing in a huge amount of money into the social welfare system cannot be the decisive factor of a reform.


(1) Gosta Esping-Anderson. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1990.)

(2) He Huifeng. “Beijing to ‘guarantee’ funding for health care, education and pensions in China’s poorest regions.” South China Morning Post. February 11, 2018.

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