China: Past, Present and Future
Royal Holloway University of London Interdisciplinary Seminar Series
Event Date: 29 April Thursday 2010
Small Mercies: Poverty/Charity, State/Market, and the Provision of Social Welfare in Urban China
Keynote Speaker: Professor Vivienne Shue
Leverhulme Professor and Director, Contemporary China Studies Programme, University of Oxford
Chaired by: Dr. Catherine Wang
School of Management, Royal Holloway University of London
Professor Vivienne Shue received the Ph.D. in Government from Harvard, taught Chinese politics at Yale and at Cornell universities for more than two decades. Since 2002 has served as Director of Oxford University’s Contemporary China Studies Programme.
Professor Shue’s main areas of research are in the political sociology, political economy, and political history of contemporary China. Her current research interests include: the politics of urban planning in China and the relations of local state power-holders to private capital investors; the increasingly ‘high-tech’ and ‘high-impact’ instrumentalities of ‘global-modern governance’ that have lately been adapted for use by the Chinese party-state; public opinion polling, e-government and changing ideals of ‘citizenship’ in China; and changing norms and ideals of charity, welfare, and social relief in urban and rural China.
Her most recent book, co-edited with Christine Wong, is Paying for Progress in China: Public Finance, Human Welfare and Changing Patterns of Inequality (Routledge, 2007).
Based on data gathered in 2008-09, including interviews in Tianjin, this paper tells the story of the recent rapid and very widespread establishment of ‘charity supermarkets’ in China’s cities. These charity shops, which were initially modelled after certain ‘thrift shops’ in the U.S., were set up for the purpose of assisting the urban poor and unemployed in meeting basic needs. Divergent contemporary discourses in China about poverty, charity, and business, and about the proper roles of the market and the state in the delivery of social welfare are explored and contrasted. The differing discourses and perspectives that are revealed throw interesting light on why China’s ‘charity supermarkets’ have not, so far, been able to develop well. This particular, not very satisfactory, social experiment is presented as a case study in the potential for achieving effective ‘mutual empowerment’ of state and society in the contemporary Chinese context.