China's cities: A "risk scenario"? Inequality, social unrest and the policy of cultural essentialism

Publication date:
Roberta Zavoretti

The "growing inequality" in China is often described as a “collateral effect” of the country's economic miracle, and as a potential threat to its stability and prosperity. Basing its argument on several alternative examinations of the connection that exists between the growth of GDP and poverty/welfare, this article claims that the failure to provide urban workers with access to social benefits and the growing inequality in China's cities are two central aspects in the radical redesign of society that has been carried out in post-Mao China, and that it is essential to bear in mind the complexity of the situation in order to detect new areas of privilege and vulnerability. Following the outbreak of a growing series of conflicts and protests related to employment, the experts are debating the risks that social unrest could bring, and they often appeal to Chinese culture as a highly necessary element for drafting reliable scenarios. However, in order to grasp the project of China's modernisation in all its complexity, we must eschew essentialist readings of the culture, and adopt a critical approach when studying the society. This article attempts to widen the scope of our questions and concerns regarding social stability in China, and suggests alternative areas of study on Chinese society.

Key words: China, society, city, poverty, social inequality, development, culture

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