Over the last thirty years, China has undergone comprehensive and profound social and economic transformation. The rapid development of urbanization, marketization, informatization and globalization has brought China a series of major challenges. These include how to adjust the relationship between the state, market and society; how to narrow the gap between rich and poor; how to build and improve the social welfare system; how to protect and improve the ecological environment; and how to reform and innovate the system of government and governance. At the same time, Britain, on the other side of the world, faces serious problems: such as its departure from the EU, declining trust in government, refugee crises and problems of social integration, and the retrenchment of the social welfare system.
As a popular adage says, “To learn from others’ experience can better oneself”. In the era of globalization, China’s road of modernization is not only inseparable from the experience of developed countries, but also provides the world with a unique insight on development and welfare: one with a ‘Chinese flavour’. International academic exchanges and cooperation are important parts of the internationalization process.
In order to promote academic exchange and cooperation between China and Britain, scholars from the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences – led by Dr Xiao Lin – and the School of Social Science of Cardiff University, led by Professor Sin Yi Cheung, successfully secured funding from the British Academy under the CASS-BA Newton Advanced Fellowship scheme in 2016. The broad theme of the project was ‘Social Welfare and Local Governance: A comparative perspective between China and Britain’. Along with Social Policy and Local Governance: Developments in Europe and China (社会政策与地方治理：欧洲和中国的经验, Social Science Academic Press, Beijing, 2019), the four papers in this publication are key outputs from the CASS-Cardiff University collaboration. Written by leading CASS scholars, each paper provides new insights into issues of welfare, development and urbanization in contemporary China.
By engaging with these issues, the chapters in this volume provide a timely, empirically grounded engagement, with a raft of social theory. Foremost is the burgeoning body of academic work on ‘governance’. Towards the end of the twentieth century, new ways of governing emerged in Western countries that involved greater use of non-state actors. The term ‘governance’ is now employed to capture the idea that governing does not rest on the authority and sanction of government alone (Gouldson and Bebbington, 2007; Bevir, 2013). This results in various forms of public-private-voluntary collaboration, including the use of private market and civil society actors for the delivery of social goods. These are variously captured in the associated literature on ‘welfare pluralism’ (Chaney and Wincott 2014) and ‘new public governance’ (Osbourne, 2010). Importantly, work on ‘multi-level’ (Bache and Flinders, 2004) and ‘multi-spatial’ governance (Jessop, 2016) underlines how the form and function of governance varies according to geographical scale: ranging from international, national and sub-national (or regional) processes to those operating at the local or community level.
The prevailing mix of governance styles can also differ across policy sectors and countries, as well as change over time (Baker, 2018). This is evident in the allied literature on welfare state theory (Pierson and Castles, 2000; Leibfried and Mau, 2008), which provides critical insight into the role of the state in promoting citizen wellbeing and the provision of social welfare. This literature, however, has been largely dominated by studies of Western states (Arts and Gelissen, 2002; Chau and Sam, 2011), especially where strong neoliberal belief in the effectiveness and efficiency of markets shapes the mix of governance styles used (Newman and McKee, 2005). In response, this volume analyses developments in the East.
China presents an interesting and important case, where civil society is less autonomous from the state (Hsu and Hasmath, 2017). Although civil society in China cannot be understood in conventional terms, the drive towards economic reform and modernization in the past 30 years has created new opportunities for citizen participation (Kerr, 2015). Here, new participatory practices socialize people into an ethic of citizenship, such as through the provision of social care at the community level (Ringen and Ngok, 2013). Yet the case of China also exhibits strong similarities to the West, where the state continues to act both as a coordinator and facilitator, while retaining its traditional regulatory and oversight roles (Carrillo Garcia, Beatriz, Hood, and Kadetz, 2017).
The evidence from our empirical work on China shows how, as this change in governmentality plays out in practice, the opening-up of social spaces can both strengthen the bonds between the state and the polity, while simultaneously enhancing the capacity of the state to deliver on social goods (Sander et al, 2012). The research also points to the complexity of the relationship between civil society and the state and the need to think differently about how it is forged and developed outside Western contexts.
These articles reflect the finished product after months of hard work of the CASS team and helpful comments and advice from senior colleagues of the Cardiff team. The editing and publishing of these working papers stand among the concrete achievements of our three years’ communication and cooperation. We hope to use it as an opportunity to contribute our humble effort to promote international exchange and expand our academic horizons in related fields.
Editors and contributors
School of Social Sciences, WISERD, Sustainable Places Research Institute – Cardiff University & the Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Science, Beijing.