China Policy Institute: Analysis


Chinese government

Hukou Reform and China’s Migrant Workers.

Written by Cara Wallis.

One distinguishing characteristic of life for Chinese citizens has been China’s long-antiquated hukou, or household registration system, which for decades classified people as urban (non-agricultural) or rural (agricultural) and outsider/insider according to where they were born, not where they reside. Begun in the 1950s as a way for the government to distribute resources from the centrally planned economy and to limit population mobility to prevent overcrowding in cities, in the reform era the policy has come under intense criticism from scholars, human rights activists, and the rural-to-urban migrant population due to the way it has created a two-tiered, caste-like system. In China’s cities, those who hold a local urban hukou are entitled to a range of state welfare benefits (in the form of housing, education, healthcare, etc.) while those who do not must go without. The original purpose of the hukou has become obsolete, yet it nonetheless has held much power in determining people’s life opportunities. Moreover, the structural barriers it upholds are indisputably connected to the cultural prejudices faced by “outsiders,” particularly labor migrants in cities such as Beijing. Continue reading “Hukou Reform and China’s Migrant Workers.”

Mao, Zhao and some “what ifs?”

Written by Jeffrey Wasserstrom.

I am always interested in counterfactual and other sorts of “what if” forays into speculation. I have often played the “what would Mao make of today’s China” game. Early in this century, for example, I wrote a “Letter from Nanjing” for the TLS that pondered the way that a revivified Chairman might have responded to perusing the bookshelves of a local bookstore that sold guides to opening one’s own bar or café, Hannah Arendt’s On Totalitarianism, and other works that would have been deemed inappropriate titles in the early decades of the PRC (and were verboten throughout the Soviet bloc then as well). More recently, I penned an op-ed for the South China Morning Post, linked loosely to this being the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution and fortieth anniversary of Mao’s death, asking what, if he were to come back to life, Xi Jinping’s most famous and infamous predecessor would think of China’s current leader. Continue reading “Mao, Zhao and some “what ifs?””

The Party’s worst nightmare

Written by Kerry Brown.

Anniversaries matter to the Communist Party of China (CPC) – or at least, the right kind of anniversaries. In September last year, massed lines of new military equipment swept through the streets of Beijing, marking the seventieth anniversary of the ending of the Second World War in Asia. Five years into the future, in 2021, the Party is already preparing itself for, at least in its eyes, a much more significant date – the hundredth year since its foundation. No doubt, in the inner recesses of the Zhongnanhai government compound at the moment, there is already a small group working on the details of what festivities will be held to usher this moment in.

Continue reading “The Party’s worst nightmare”

Crossing the river by feeling the stones: democracy’s advance in China

Written by Yu Keping.

To say “democracy is a good thing” means that democracy can benefit the people. Yet if democracy is to benefit the people, a precondition is that social order must be maintained and hardship shouldn’t burden them. If democracy causes unrest, the people will lose hope, corruption will go unchecked. Under these circumstances, who would still wish for democracy?

Those who are against democracy often use this possibility to frighten their audience. The truth is that there is much evidence to show that the advancement of democracy will not necessarily produce disorder. Just the opposite: over the long term, it is only democracy and the rule of law that will provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of the nation.


The China dream is about supporting the great revival of the Chinese nation. This revival includes many things, but a high level of democracy and the rule of law are an indispensable part of the vision.

The movement towards democracy everywhere is a political trend that cannot be reversed. China is no exception. Sun Yat-sen once said:

Worldwide trends are powerful. Going with them will bring success, going against them will bring disaster.

The main global trend he referred to was nations becoming independent, countries growing wealthy and strong, and their people wanting democracy. Today, when we speak of political civilisation, we mainly refer to democracy and the rule of law.

Democracy is the lifeblood of our republic. The central meaning of “The People’s Republic of China” is that the people are the masters and make the key decisions. The 16th Party Congress emphasised that intra-party democracy is the lifeblood of the party; the 17th Party Congress emphasised that the people’s democracy is the lifeblood of socialism. It is no longer a matter of whether or not one likes democracy: democracy is a trend that cannot be blocked.

The political development of socialism with Chinese characteristics is in fact the organic unification of three things:

… the leadership of the party, the role of the people as masters and decision makers; and the ruling of the nation in accordance with the law.

The sovereign people are at the heart of these three components. The goal is to enable “the people to be the masters”. In the final analysis, the “leadership of the party” and “the rule of law” serve to ensure that the people are the masters.

The 18th Party Congress emphasised the same point: the people must indeed remain the masters. The continual advancement of democracy and the rule of law is the historical responsibility of those in the Communist Party. This is our correct direction.


The delay of political democratic reforms in China will breed a host of problems. If there are no breakthroughs in the reform of key policy areas, then illegal corruption may turn into legitimised special privileges.

The achievement of democracy depends on real-world conditions. It needs to be linked to economic and cultural realities and the actual foundations of society. As we discovered when “running towards communism”, rushing ourselves will not work; it will bring disastrous consequences.

But moving too slowly in matters of democratic political reform will also not work; the problem of corruption that we hate to the bone won’t be solved. The fact that corruption, until this day, hasn’t been effectively controlled is linked directly to the slow pace of reforms, as are such dilemmas as publishing the property holdings of officials and dealing with declining public trust in government.

Identifying the proper timing of political reforms is the responsibility of politicians, who need to have great wisdom and be willing to take action. Of these qualities, willingness to take action and a sense of responsibility are most important.


To deal with its problems, China, as a great power, must draw up a clear roadmap for political reforms.

I have always believed there are three routes from which to choose: the first is a transition from intra-party democracy to social democracy. The 16th, 17th and 18th Party Congresses have consistently emphasised this point. Democratic development needs to choose a pathway that is most efficient and exacts the lowest toll.

The second pathway is a transfer from grassroots democracy to upper-level democracy. Grassroots democracy is directly aimed at the common people, to bring them direct benefits.

In political life, the ideal situation is that the people trust all levels of government. In reality, China is the exact opposite of America: American citizens have a very low level of trust in the federal government.

We (in China) have high levels of trust in the central government, but our trust in base-level government tends to be lower. “If the base level is not solid, the ground will shake and the mountains will sway.” We need to pay attention to this possibility.

The third pathway involves a shift towards greater political competition. Democracy requires competition: without competition, how are we to elect the most outstanding individuals?

Our democracy will naturally be one with Chinese characteristics. But democracy cannot be separated from elections and competition. Consultative democracy is very important, but consultation should not exclude elections.


Democratic development in China requires achieving a balance among six policy areas:

1 We want democracy and we also want the rule of law. Democracy and the rule of law are two sides of the same coin. Any politician who speaks of democracy cannot avoid discussing the rule of law, looking to the experience of the West, or to the experience of our nation, China.

2 We want deliberation and we also want elections. Chinese democracy, to a great degree, is in fact deliberative in nature; deliberation is part of our historical traditions. Elections, on the other hand, are the product of the modern world. Democracy is naturally inseparable from elections: the two need to be combined.

3) We want freedom and we want equality. These are basic values of democratic governance. In the past, we have over-emphasised equality. Since the reforms began, freedom has been emphasised, to the point where equality and liberty are in great tension.

4) We want efficiency and we want justice. These are two indispensable basic values. In the early stages of the reforms, the issue of efficiency was more salient, but now the issue of justice becomes central.

5) We want participation and we want order. Political scientist Samuel Huntington once said that the greatest challenge for political modernisation is to manage the relationship between public participation and political stability. As the interests of different social groups become more diverse, the desire of citizens for participation becomes more intense by the day. We need more open channels for political participation. Without legal channels, citizens will certainly resort to irregular, or even illegal channels, and social unrest will result. Democratic participation then becomes problematic.

6) We want a balance between individual rights and public rights. Rights belong to the individual, and the legal rights of citizens are guaranteed by the constitution. But we also need public rights, because our nation and society are a community.


China is facing many reform challenges, and we need to get a firm grip on the most important of them. We must discover those breakthrough reform points that enable us to “move the entire body by pulling one strand of hair”. The restraint of power through intra-party democracy is among these most important breakthrough points.

There needs to be better overall planning; put in terms of mainstream political thinking, “scientific development” is needed. This means that economic development needs to be combined with political development, social development and cultural development. There need to be upper-level designs and reasonable plans based on facts.

What is also needed is an institution responsible for co-ordinating different interests, especially at the level of the central government. Governmental reform should be matched with Party reform.

There also needs to be continuous testing and expansion of reforms, so that we “cross the river by feeling the stones”. Many reforms that have been effective have suffered from discontinuity. The problem is that when politicians leave office their policies often lapse, or are not institutionalised.

To overcome this weakness, efforts need to be made to achieve advances in areas of greater strategic importance. We speak much about supervision, but too little about restraints. We speak even less of restraints on leaders at all levels of the Party.

Everyone fears that advancing democracy will cause a loss of order and will bring social unrest. Everyone meanwhile hopes that by strengthening democracy we can maintain social stability.

However, as I see it, it is only through the deepening of reforms of our political system, and through the genuine advancement of democracy and the rule of law, that we will be able to provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of our nation, enabling democracy to benefit the people.

Yu Keping is the Chair of Politics and Professor and Dean at the School of Government at Peking University. This article was first published on The Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: CC by tomasdev/Flickr

How China is rolling out the red carpet for couples who have more than one child

Written by Stuart Gietel-Basten.

A rather remarkable turnaround has occurred in China. For a country famous for having the most comprehensive sets of policies designed to limit births, it is now introducing new policies to support parents who have a second child.

In November 2015, China announced it would abandon its one-child policy and switch to a national two-child policy. The change came into force on January 1, 2016, with the immediate rationale being to tackle China’s rapidly ageing (and projected declining) population.

Some predicted a huge baby boom. Others – including me – suggested that the reforms were “too little, too late”, and that “simply allowing people to have more children does not mean they will.”

In early March, incentives for parents to have more children were explicitly mentioned in a speech by Premier Li Keqiang. Li noted:

We will improve the supporting policies to complement the decision to allow all couples to have two kids … We will encourage the development of kindergartens open to all children.

The theme was seen across the March meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC). Ma Xu, an NPC deputy and director of the national Family Planning and Health Commission, stated that:

A lack of childcare and fewer job opportunities are major obstacles to Chinese women having a second baby … To help working mothers, community nurseries should be opened to care for children younger than three-years-old.

Meanwhile, NPC deputy Zhu Lieyu suggested that:

The government should offer mothers of two children a living allowance for three years, and the sum should be 70-80% of the average per capita income in their specific part of the country.

More concretely, the Chinese minister of finance, Lou Jiwei, was quoted in state media to have submitted a set of proposals to reform individual income tax to support couples to have a second child.

While mortgage relief for couples who have two children appears not to have made it into the latest round of tax reforms, there is evidence that education costs may be added to the list of costs deductible for tax relief.

Local incentives coming thick and fast

At a local level, other policies to support childbearing are already being introduced. In late March 2016, it was announced that mothers in Beijing would be entitled to an extra month’s maternity leave, while new fathers would be entitled to 15 days paternity leave.

For some time now, studies have observed family planning officials in some large cities actively encouraging couples to take advantage of their rights to have a second child. In this way, local governments could become ever more proactive in designing policies to support couples to have a second child.

Not worked elsewhere in Asia

Governments across Pacific Asia have been introducing increasingly far-reaching policies in recent years to support and encourage childbearing in an attempt to stem extremely rapid ageing resulting from very low fertility rates.

Perhaps the most expansive and famous is in Singapore. As well as government sponsored dating events and wide-ranging maternity benefits, parents are effectively handed “baby bonuses” and tax rebates of tens of thousands of pounds per child.

Elsewhere, policies to support childbearing both financially and in terms of childcare and parental leave have been introduced in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

Yet, in each of these settings fertility has stayed resolutely low; not least in Singapore which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world.

This is because the financial subsidies simply do not come close to offsetting the high costs of childbearing in these countries. Costs are further exaggerated by expectations of huge investment in education and other activities, sometimes called “education fever”. These policies are also not able to adequately address some of the more fundamental reasons for limiting family sizes, such as fragile employment and the “triple burden” placed on women to work and take primary responsibility for both children and elderly parents.

A helping hand

There is now a broad agreement that it is not just the family planning policies which pushed– and kept – fertility down in China. As such, just changing the policy is likely to have only a limited impact.

Assuming, though, that many of the other reasons for low fertility are common to both China and elsewhere in Asia, and given the limited success elsewhere in turning birth rates around, we might question how effective policies to support childbearing will be at increasing the Chinese fertility rate.

But I think that this misses the point. If the new policies set out to encourage childbearing in order to achieve certain key population “goals”, then they may well not succeed. But the language of the new policy announcement does not appear to suggest this. In a break from the “old” way of talking about family planning, this “new” language is much more about “supporting” than “encouraging”. This is not just semantics. If the new policies are designed to support citizens to be able to meet their aspirations in terms of family, work and life, then their success should be judged on this rather than the birth rate in years to come.

Switching from the world’s most restrictive family planning regime to offering incentives for childbirth is a remarkable turnaround. But it may well be that the truly revolutionary aspect of this policy change is the switch from “controlling and shaping” citizen’s actions to meet the needs of the nation, towards “supporting and enabling” them to meet their own personal aspirations.

Stuart Gietel-Basten is an Associate Professor of Social Policy at the University of Oxford. This article was first published on The Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: CC by joan vila/Flickr

The Current Status of Ethnic Policy in China

Written by Wenshan Jia.

This post discusses China’s Ethnic Policy since the 18th Party Congress. Analysis of literature on evolving theoretical and policy discourses on ethnic relations in China between the founding of PRC in 1949 and the 18th Congress in 2012 reveal the following:

The so-called “first generation” of ethnic policy discourse represented by scholars such as Hao Shiyuan, can be most accurately described as a Stalinist-Maoist model of political-economic empowerment for minority nationalities and their regions. This model begins to reveal its limitations and inadequacies, such as excessively materialistic reinforcement of the sense of uniqueness (and thus separateness) of the ethnic minorities with scant cultivation of their sense of national identification in the contexts of the emerging market conditions of contemporary China, the global rise of China, and globalization in general.

The model has subsequently been challenged by a group of Chinese scholars including Ma Rong, Hu Angang, Hu Lianhe, who have created an alternative “second-generation” model that proposes ethnic blending, the removal of ethnic area autonomy, the reduction of minority nationality-based privileges, and the thinning of ethnic consciousness in order to reinforce the ethnic minorities’ identification with the Chinese nation-state.

However, neither model alone can maintain a dynamic balance between unity and diversity, as illustrated in the unpublished case study of Gannan, an autonomous Tibetan region of Gansu Province, Northwest China by Jia Wenshan and Wei Mengzhi. A dynamic balance between unity and diversity is an essential feature of multiculturalism commonly embraced in today’s international society. It is suggested that a hybrid model resulting from a creative integration of the “first generation” ethnic policy and the “second generation” ethnic policy be adopted in China’s current and future efforts to effectively manage inter-ethnic relations. This hybrid model of ethnic relations, I argue, is more valid and reliable as it is more holistic and capable of addressing a whole range of issues with regard to ethnic relations in China, and indeed elsewhere in the world.

This policy maintains the political autonomy of ethnic minority areas and provides economic equity and empowerment as the “first generation” ethnic policy does. In addition, the hybrid model also embraces the social, cultural and psychological integration of the ethnic minorities into the Chinese nation-state while respecting ethnic diversity.

The fifth generation of Chinese leadership since the 18th Party Congress appears to have adopted such a hybrid model. First, as a sign of political empowerment, national leaders of ethnic minority backgrounds have been promoted to higher and more critical ranks of national government. Nur Bekri, a Uyghur, was appointed Vice-Chairman of China National Commission for Development and Reform and Chief of National Bureau for Energy in December 2014. Yang Jing, an ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the positions of Secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, State Councilor, and Secretary General of the State Council in 2014. Bayangqolu, another ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the position of Party Secretary of Jilin Province in 2014. He is currently the only ethnic-minority official serving as a provincial level Party Secretary, a phenomenon which did not exist during the fourth generation of Chinese leadership.

Secondly, according to, between 2011-2013 the central government allocated a total fund of 27.75 billion RMB for 136 border counties (78.7% of which are ethnic minority counties) for infrastructure development, ethnic industries and livelihood programs and achieved a total GDP of 809.7 billion RMB, a 58% increase over that in 2010. Besides the regular financial allocations provided by the Chinese government, the nationwide programme ensured that more economically developed coastal cities, provinces, companies and universities provide special free assistance to ethnic minority areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet. This has been rigorously implemented since 2002, and by 2011 a total amount of 10 billion RMB had been provided to narrow the wealth gap. Since the 18th Party Congress, this program has continued.

Third, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership led by Xi Jinping has been promoting five kinds of identification among ethnic minorities in order to realize the “Chinese dream”. President Xi stated: “We must carry out the Party’s ethnic policy and religious policy, reinforce interethnic unity, and cultivate all ethnic minority members’ identification with the Great Motherland, Chinese Nation, Chinese culture, Chinese Communist Party, and Chinese socialism.” He calls for all ethnic members of China, including Han, to be as united as “seeds of a pomegranate”.

Last but not least, besides being more focussed on unity than their predecessors, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership has been staunchly anti-separatist, particularly with regard to Xinjiang.

While I applaud the adoption of this hybrid model of ethnic relations, I expect further maturation and refinement by accepting these suggestions: To achieve the five kinds of identification is no easy and quick fix. It should not rely upon top-down moral persuasion. Rather, I suggest that more freedom of thought, discussion, and innovation at the grassroots level be afforded so that identification can take root and bear fruit. I also suggest that elite designs be done scientifically. For example, all ethnic minority members could carry a hyphenated identity such as Mongol-Chinese with Mongol as the label for ethnic identity and Chinese as the national identity just like informal conventions in the US. Laws could be passed to use such labels in official documents, media, and formal occasions. Last but not least, the Chinese education system is advised to rethink and redesign its mission to incorporate harmonious interethnic relations as an inseparable part of its mission and thus as a core part of the entire curriculum at all levels of schooling.

Wenshan Jia (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst) is Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Intercultural/Global Communication, School of Journalism & Communication, & Research Associate, The National Academy of Development & Strategy (NADS), both at Renmin University of China.  Jia is also tenured Professor of Communication & China Studies at Chapman University, California, USA.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Academy for Intercultural Research and a standing council member of All China Association for Intercultural Communication . He is the recipient of both the Wang-Fradkin Professorship for 2005-2007, the highest award given by Chapman University for faculty research, and the Early Career Award from the International Academy for Intercultural Research. He served on the National Communication Association’s Task Force of Internationalization and has a publication record of 10 books and more than 60 research articles and book chapters mostly  on intercultural communication and Chinese as well as ethnic relations in China. He is currently working on a book titled Global Communication for an Inclusive World Order with Routledge/NY. Image credit: CC by KittyKaht/Flickr.

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