The Social Impact of Economic Reform: The Rise of Civil Society?

  • Gordon White


It is the thesis of this chapter that the economic reforms have brought about major changes in the structure and dynamics of Chinese society and that these changes have important political consequences. My aim here is briefly to trace the main dimensions of social change and trace their political implications, focusing on two aspects of this process. The first concerns the impact of economic reform on different components of Chinese society. We have already seen in Chapter 1 that Chinese society before the reforms contained pervasive tensions and discontents which provided a kind of social mandate for economic reform in the late 1970s. In turn, to the extent that reforms have affected specific social groups in different ways and have led to changes in existing social groups and the rise of new ones, a new constellation of social interests has been created. Since social groups have experienced the reforms in different ways and have benefited/lost from them to varying degrees, they have created a new political environment which affects the basic credibility of the regime and influences the policy process (as we have seen already in the cases of industrial and agricultural policy). The evolving pattern of social interests thus has an important impact on the course and content of the reforms.


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  1. 26.
    See Gong Zuozhou and Jin Can, ‘Let’s see what Chen Yizi really is’, People’s Daily 21 April 1990, in SWB 0752.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Douglas Gordon White 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon White
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Development StudiesUniversity of SussexUK

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