Research & Impact
Prof MOK Ka-ho, Joshua
Vice-President and Lam Man Tsan Chair Professor of Comparative Policy, Lingnan University
Looking after those left behind by China’s boom
In 1979, when Deng Xiaoping began the process of opening up China’s economy to international trade and investment, the country’s supermarket shelves were frequently empty and the annual average income of its citizens was less than US$100.
Today, though, the country boasts the world’s second-largest economy and is a leader in several technological fields which look set to shape future global development. In the course of these last 40 years, 700 hundred million Chinese have also been lifted out of poverty, and the provision of decent housing and adequate health, education and social services, has been greatly extended.
However, despite, and sometimes because, of the vast scale of the progress made, hundreds of millions more of the nation’s population either remain in poverty or still have pressing welfare needs. The focus on ensuring the pace of GDP growth is maintained has resulted in welfare regionalism, with the benefits of the economic boom far from evenly shared. Whether an individual, and their family, gets to enjoy adequate welfare services very much depends upon the political will, and the financial capacity, of their local government.
Since 2003, the central government has tried to tackle this enduring problem via a range of new welfare programmes which have the overall goal of providing universal social protection.
With some Western observers viewing this policy as the dawn of a new approach to welfare provision in China, one similar to that seen in a number of European countries, Professor Joshua Mok, Lingnan’s Vice President and a specialist in the field, decided to investigate if this really did mark a significant shift away from a tradition of ‘paternalistic welfare pragmatism’ towards true univeralism.
And this is not simply an esoteric question. The effectiveness, or otherwise, of the social policy adopted by the central government has a huge impact on the lives of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people. Professor Mok found, for example, that higher education enrollment rates for those living in Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing, could reach 70%. But with universities located primarily in such coastal areas, those living in the inland regions of China struggle for any higher learning opportunities. Even in the relatively wealthy Zhejiang province, opportunities are relatively scarce.
The central government has made efforts to fix such education inequality by, for instance, allowing local governments to collaborate with overseas institutions. One such example is the establishment of a Nottingham University campus in Ningbo.
But after analysing prefecture-level data for expenditure on education, health, social security and assistance programmes between 2003 and 2012, Professor Mok concluded that although the situation was improving, more work needed to be done to iron out regional disparities and welfare regionalism.
Local governments sometimes lacked the cash to implement the policy directives from central government, and he urged central government to mobilise and coordinate the resources of the state, the market and the wider civil society, in order to find solutions.
To know more about Professor Joshua Mok's research projects, please click Lingnan Scholars.