In This Review

From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization: Markets, Workers, and the State in a Changing China
From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization: Markets, Workers, and the State in a Changing China
Edited by Sarosh Kuruvilla, Ching Kwan Lee, and Mary E. Gall
Cornell University Press, 2011, 248 pp
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Under increasing pressure in a liberalizing economy and abetted by local governments hungry for growth, Chinese enterprises have shifted an estimated 39 percent of China’s urban work force from permanent employment to the “informal” sector, where workers get lower pay, forgo job security and benefits, and experience frequent violations of labor standards. The central government, fearing political instability, responded recently with an updated labor-contract law and pension reforms. Perversely, however, those measures have actually intensified the incentives for enterprises to avoid long-term labor commitments, entrenching what one contributor to this insightful volume calls a state of “permanent temporariness.” Worker pushback has taken the form of petty sabotage, work slowdowns, demonstrations, strikes, and fragile efforts to organize independent labor organizations. As a whole, this collection suggests that if China cannot balance the need for flexibility in the job market with the demand for social justice, it will be hard for the country to continue its rapid economic growth while maintaining political stability.