In This Review

Poverty and Pacification: The Chinese State Abandons the Old Working Class
Poverty and Pacification: The Chinese State Abandons the Old Working Class
By Dorothy J. Solinger
Rowman & Littlefield, 2022, 332 pp.

Although the Chinese Communist Party has received much credit for “lifting millions out of poverty,” Solinger delves into how the party’s economic reforms have also left millions behind. Scholars have fixated on the lot of poor peasants, but she focuses on the urban poor created by the shuttering and privatizing of state-owned enterprise in the late 1990s. Solinger argues that dibao, China’s social assistance program for the urban poor, is shaped by political motivations. It is designed to pacify its recipients rather than to lift them up. Based on outdated benchmarks, the minimum income guarantees condemn the urban poor to being a permanent underclass, offering a sufficient threshold to both keep them silent and prevent them from becoming upwardly mobile. The book obviously benefits from Solinger’s decades of experience studying this issue, evidenced in copious firsthand interview notes and government statistics, but it buries some of its key insights in the latter half. Solinger compares the Chinese case with those of other countries to reveal the irony of China’s avowed “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which, by neglecting the plight of the proletariat, shows that there is really nothing socialist about the party any longer.