SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

Neoliberalism, Authoritarianism and the Dark Sides of Social Policy in China

IMG - Jane Ducket - China Debate 2018
Professor Jane Duckett (University of Glasgow)

Date: 13 January 2020Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 13 January 2020Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G3

Type of Event: Seminar

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This event has been rescheduled from November 2019


A strand of work on the politics of social policy internationally has argued that expansions of provision in the period since the global spread of neoliberalism in the 1980s sometimes facilitate neoliberal projects. Some suggest that social policies can actually increase insecurity, reinforce, reproduce and structure inequalities, and facilitate social control, ordering and segregation. This paper discusses to what extent neoliberal-looking policies in China since the 1990s, and the social policy expansions that have accompanied them, can be seen as part of this global experience. It argues that although Chinese economic policies have not been straightforwardly neoliberal, they have significantly marketized and commoditized goods and labour. Social policy expansions that have been portrayed as universalizing provision have facilitated these economic policies. And although they have extended entitlements to hitherto excluded sections of the population, they have segmented provision so that urban elites, middle classes and formal sector workers enjoy much more generous provisions than the many people working informally or without work. Overall, they have been regressive and have had negligible effects on reducing income inequalities. The question is whether the Chinese party-state will now take the politically more difficult step of shifting social spending so that it is less regressive and provides adequately for the most vulnerable.


Jane Duckett is Edward Caird Chair of Politics and Director of the Scottish Centre for China Research at the University of Glasgow. She is a Fellow of the British Academy (2016), the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2019), and the Academy of Social Sciences (2019). She is also a Guest Professor at Nankai University (Tianjin, China). In 2012 she received the Lord Provost of Glasgow Education Award. From 2014-2017 she was President of the British Association for Chinese Studies.

Prof Duckett's early research on the Chinese state under market reform included a book-length study, The Entrepreneurial State in China (Routledge, 1998). She then (with Bill Miller) made a comparative study of public attitudes to openness in East Asia and Eastern Europe, published as The Open Economy and its Enemies (CUP, 2006). Since then, her research has been concerned with Chinese public policy.

Prof Duckett studied at Fudan University in Shanghai (1984-5 and 1987-8) and at Nankai University in Tianjin (1992-3). In the late 1980s she worked in the Shanghai office of the American law firm, Paul Weiss. She has also worked in China as a policy and social development consultant on a number of international aid projects. Her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, The Leverhulme Trust, British Council, British Academy, and the European Commission.


This event is open to the public and free to attend, however registration is required. Online Registration

Chair: Professor Steve Tsang (Director, SOAS China Institute)

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

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Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4823