Social issues in China

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Social issues in China are varied and wide-ranging, and are a combined result of the Chinese economic reforms set in place in the late 1970s, China's political and cultural history, and an immense population. Because of the vast number of social problems that exist in China today (not at all exclusive to the following list), China's government has faced considerable difficulty in trying to remedy the issues. Many of these issues are exposed by the Chinese media, while subjects that may contain politically sensitive issues may be censored. Some academics hold that China's fragile social balance, combined with a bubble economy makes China an extremely unstable country, while others argue China's societal trends have created a balance to sustain itself.


According to Professor Jianrong, official statistics show the number of recorded incidents of mass unrest are "boiling ... to the point of explosion". They have risen from 8,709 in 1993 to more than 90,000 in each of 2007 through 2009. Reasons cited include an aggrieved class of dispossessed migrants and unemployed workers, a deep loss of faith in the system among many Chinese and a weakening in the traditional means of state control.[1]

Professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing University of Technology said corruption, state monopolies, the yawning wealth gap and the rising cost of housing, education and medical care all contribute significantly to unrest. He said land seizures and the widening wealth gap were the two top factors: Since the beginning of Deng Xiaoping's reforms in 1979, the disparity between the urban and rural populations has risen from 2.56:1 in 1978 to 3.33:1 in 2009. Urban income in 1978 was 343 yuan whilst rural income stood at 134 yuan; in 2009, the corresponding figures were 17,175 yuan and 5,153 yuan respectively. Despite the overall increase in urban income, unemployment, unpaid wages and police misconduct are sources of grievances.[1]

Regional imbalances

Since the economic reforms in China began, income inequality has increased significantly. The Gini Coefficient, an income distribution gauge, has worsened from 0.3 back in 1986 to 0.42 in 2011,.[2] Poverty researchers recognize anything above 0.4 as potentially socially destabilizing.

The growing wealth gap can be seen as a byproduct of China’s economic and social development policies. The adverse effects of having a widening inequity between the rich and the poor include social and political instability, discrimination in access to areas such as public health, education, pensions and unequal opportunities for the Chinese people. It is important to note that the inequality in income in China can also be seen as a rural-urban income gap especially with the widely criticized social development policy, the Hukou (household registration) System in place. Market income – mainly wages – has been the driving factor in shaping urban income inequality since the economic reforms in China while the widening rural-urban income gap is due to low salaries for employees and migrants in many companies coupled with rapidly growing profits for the management of State-owned enterprises, real estate developers and some private companies. The urban per capita net income stood at 17,175 yuan ($2,525) in 2009, in contrast to 5,153 yuan in the countryside, with the urban-to-rural income ratio being 3.33:1, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.[3]

The Hukou System has been long seen as an institutionalized source of inequality and disparity among the population and source of population control[4] seen a deterrence factor for rural citizens to seek a higher standard of living in the cities as rural citizens will be denied access to urban housing and education for their children. It is also seen as a legacy of the dualistic economy, serving as a highly effective measure of limiting urban migration.[5]

File:Population density of China by first-level administrative regionsEnglish.png
China's wealth and population is concentrated in the Eastern coastal provinces



Employment distribution has been an important issue for the Chinese Government ever since it began initiating reforms.[6] Employment levels differs from region to region, with stronger concentrations of unemployment in the interior. That trend which has been stemmed in part from the efforts of the Chinese Government to make its SOEs (State Owned Enterprises), which had a redundancy rate at an estimated 25-30% in 1999,[7] more efficient.[8] on the other hand as of late 2011 the heavily industrialized coastal areas and cities are in fact experiencing an employment shortage due to the runaway growth of the economy.[9] Guangdong province alone needs at least 1 million workers to cover the shortage.[10]

Government and law

  • Bloated staffing in civil service and redundant government agencies
  • Corruption (nepotism and cronyism (favorism over meritocracy), wasting public funds, bribery, legal system corruption (司法制度腐败),Corporate scandals etc.)
  • Face projects (面子工程), including building useless roads, buildings, and huge government squares
  • Tofu-dreg projects (豆腐渣工程), meaning poorly built infrastructure
  • government-commerce relationships (官商勾结)
  • Lack of the rule of law
  • Fusion and unclear definition on the powers of the government and judiciary


  • Increase in corporate irregularity a.k.a. white-collar crime.
  • Close tie between organized crime and corruption.[11]
  • Extensive allegations of counterfeiting.
  • Increased instances of alleged fraud and scams (including people claiming supernatural powers, quack medicines, etc.)
  • The resurgence of Chinese organized crime.[12]

Social unrest

  • Media censorship
  • Dissatisfaction with corrupt government officials.
  • Large protests against local government/businesses due to unfair treatment (usually land and expropriation related issues) and ensuing persecution.

Elitism and discrimination


  • Common with other East Asian countries is the extreme pressure from friends, family, and society to perform well in extremely competitive schools, (especially in Gaokao, the university entrance exams) this can result in unethical behaviour performed by parents and/or students (bribery, cheating, etc. to get into best schools)[13]
  • Rural-urban inequality
  • Lack of strong relationship between state-funded research and the private sector, e.g. poor commercialization and technology transfer of university research
  • Lack of critical scholarship and monitoring of research quality


  • Norm that social competitiveness should be considered above all else
  • Loss of traditional Confucianism morals and beliefs
  • Inflexible ideologies taught in public
  • Excessive materialism
  • Money worship

Loss of culture

As a result of the cultural revolution many traditional Chinese customs and beliefs have been lost, though some have been revived.[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Huang, Cary (19 October 2010). "Leaders lost for words to describe and address cause of social strife South China Morning Post
  2. Need to Narrow Income Gap. China Daily. 16 Sept 2011. Last Accessed: 22 Sept 2011
  3. Rural-Urban Gap Widest Since Reforms China Daily. 2 March 2011. Last Accessed: 10 Sept 2011
  4. "No Change In Beijing's Hukou System". China Digital Times. Retrieved 27 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Tao Kong, Sherry. "China's migrant problem: the need for hukou reform". East Asia Forum. Retrieved 27 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Lee, C. K. "The Revenge of History: Collective Memories, Unemployment and Labor Protests in Northeastern China" - Ethnography, Dec 2000, Vol. 1 No. 2 217-237. P. 3.
  7. Lee, C. K. "The Revenge of History: Collective Memories, Unemployment and Labor Protests in Northeastern China" - Ethnography, Dec 2000, Vol. 1 No. 2 217-237. Page 3.
  8. Won, Jaeyoun. "The Making of the Post-Proletariat in China" - Development and Society, Dec 2005, Vol. 23 No. 2. P. 191-192.
  11. Wang, Peng (2013). "The rise of the Red Mafia in China: a case study of organised crime and corruption in Chongqing". Trends in Organized Crime. 16 (1): 49–73. doi:10.1007/s12117-012-9179-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Wang, Peng (2013). "The increasing threat of Chinese organised crime: national, regional and international perspectives". The RUSI Journal. 158 (4): 6–18. doi:10.1080/03071847.2013.826492.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Cultural Revolution". Retrieved 2 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>