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China as a Complex Risk Society

Risk Components of Post-Socialist Compressed Modernity
La Chine en tant que société du risque complexe. La composante « risque » de la modernité compressée post-socialiste
China como sociedad de riesgo complejo. Elementos de riesgo en la modernidad comprimida post-socialista
Chang Kyung-Sup

Résumés

Cet article analyse la Chine post-Mao en tant que société du risque complexe dans laquelle les syndromes de risque social, économique et écologique consécutifs à des niveaux et systèmes de développement très divers se manifestent simultanément. La société du risque complexe est une extension théorique de la thèse d’Ulrich Beck sur la société du risque, concentrée sur les temporalités complexes de développement qui sont généralement symptomatiques de systèmes politiques économiques à développement rapide mais asymétrique. Dans mon étude précédente, la Corée était définie comme une société du risque complexe dans laquelle des syndromes de risque tenant à des sociétés développées, sous-développées ou à développement compressé étaient générés simultanément. Dans cette présente étude, la Chine post-Mao est également analysée comme une société du risque complexe, qui est, de fait, plus complexe encore que la Corée. De façon paradoxale, à cause de son développement explosif durant l’ère post-Mao, qui éclipserait presque celui de la Corée, la Chine est aujourd’hui exposée à tous les syndromes de risque de son voisin capitaliste. De plus, à cause de son approche soi-disant graduelle de la réforme du système, la Chine est affectée d’un mélange compliqué de syndromes de risques socialistes et post-socialistes (tenant à l’économie de marché). La réforme graduelle est en pratique une sorte de pluralisme erratique dans les domaines économique et social pour maximiser l’utilité pour le développement de toutes les ressources humaines, économiques et sociales – une ligne politique inévitablement accompagnée de sources et facteurs tout aussi divers de risques sociaux, économiques et écologiques. La complexité temporelle et systémique sans précédent de la structure du risque en Chine a des conséquences cruciales sur une tendance fort déplorée aux inégalités. En particulier, les inégalités de classe et les disparités régionales semblent se manifester tout autant dans la dimension du risque que dans la dimension matérielle. Le développementalisme d’État n’est en rien à lui seul la solution contre les complexités des risques et des inégalités.

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Texte intégral

Research for this article has been carried out as part of the 2017 Science/Technology-Humanity/Social Science Fusion Research Project, 2017M3C1B6070570. The author is grateful to anonymous reviewers as well as the editor of this special issue of Temporalités for useful and constructive comments.

Introduction

  • 1 See Chang Kyung-Sup (1999), “Compressed Modernity and Its Discontents: South Korean Society in Tran (...)

1The Great Earthquake of Sichuan Province in China caused shocking levels of human, environmental and property damage in May 2008. The catastrophic outcomes not only attested to the formidable force of nature but also revealed the flawed public system for managing natural disasters and governing communities and citizens for safety. Through the 2008 Summer Olympics, China had wished to boast to the world of its economic achievements attained through reforms over the preceding 30 years. However, in the wake of ongoing massive disasters that have continued into the present, China has fallen into the sad predicament of having its ability to adequately manage social safety doubted internationally. China’s situation brings to mind Korea, which in the mid-1990s happily joined the ranks of advanced nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but suddenly gained notoriety as an “accident republic” due to the collapse of huge bridges and buildings and several large subway explosions.1 These catastrophic events, concentrated in a few years, proved to be largely the result of human error, and thus became an impetus for new academic interest in risk issues.

  • 2 Chang Kyung-Sup (1998), “Risk Components of Compressed Modernity: South Korea as Complex Risk Socie (...)
  • 3 There is a growing interest in the risk society perspective among Chinese scholars. Examples of maj (...)

2In an earlier study, I drew upon Ulrich Beck’s discussion on “risk society” in defining South Korea (Korea hereafter) as a complex risk society where risks common to advanced countries, undeveloped countries, and compressively but haphazardly changing countries exist side by side.2 Complex risk society is a theoretical extension of Ulrich Beck’s thesis on risk society, focusing on complex developmental temporalities that are pervasively symptomatic of rapidly but asymmetrically developing political economies. Complex risk society is a societal manifestation of (Korea’s) compressed modernity in respect to its diverse risk components and experiences pertaining to multiple developmental temporalities such as developed, un(der)developed, and transformative stages/states of development. This condition is particularly evident in terms of various physical hazards and ecological threats. In the present study, I would like to point out that China can also be defined as a complex risk society, while showing that China’s risk types are compositionally much more complex than those of Korea. Specifically, 21st century Chinese society has been experiencing many of the various risk syndromes repeatedly experienced by Korean society as it pursues rapid, externally dependent modernization and economic development while failing to overcome structural imbalances between sectors. At the same time, the risk syndromes accompanying reforms to the socialist system, stacked on top of the risk syndromes carried over from the previous socialist era, have rendered China an extremely complex risk society.3

  • 4 This situation is interestingly paralleled in the arduous experiences of North Korean refugees in S (...)

3As compared to the radical system transitions of Russia and Eastern Europe, China’s reforms have involved a gradual process of introducing practical, non-socialist economic and social elements aiming at economic development but leaving the socialist regime’s political dictatorship unchanged. China’s relatively more cautious approach has resulted in unexpected explosive and long-term economic growth, realizing unforeseen potentials for economic development in Chinese society. In this unique situation, China’s development is characterized by both risk syndromes linked to socialism and underdevelopment, and risk syndromes associated with the outcomes and processes of post-socialist transitions, varying by sectors and regions. Of highest academic and practical importance are the risk syndromes related to market economic transition. Although the market economy by nature imposes on participants a variety of economic insecurities and life-threatening risks, when this social system is suddenly introduced by political decision as a means of averting economic crisis, the majority of people will commonly experience wide ignorance of the new market economic order, a dearth of proper economic resources, an ideological hiatus of anti-communal competitive orders, and an insensitivity to market ethics as nurtured by their ideology.4 Precipitated by the particularities involved in the process of accommodating a market economy in China, these risks, as well as risks like those Korea experienced as a simultaneously developed, undeveloped, and compressively-but-haphazardly changing nation, become a reality.

4Furthermore, such intricately composed risks are experienced discriminately, on the one hand according to the (increasingly unequal) economic rank of each citizen, and, on the other hand according to each citizen’s position within China’s complicated political and social order. First, a growing gap between the rich and the poor has created discriminatory positions with respect to safety by socioeconomic class, as seen in specific safety-related merchandising trends. In addition, within China’s major political and social order, there seem to be three groupings linked to the social order of risk: asymmetrical relations between the authoritarian state and citizens; exclusionary (domestic) citizenships in work and welfare by formal residential status; and geographical differentials and segmentations caused by reforms and liberalizations. Asymmetrical relations between the authoritarian state and ordinary citizens refer to the threat posed to various general public safety concerns by the privileges enjoyed by central and local cadres and their toadies, mostly perpetrated within the context of corruption in mortal accidents or corporate tyranny and high-handedness resulting in safety threats. Exclusionary(domestic) citizenships in work and welfare by residential status refer to discriminatory access to social security, public services, employment and business opportunities existing between farmers, ex-farmers working city jobs, regular urban workers, and other categories, involving serious differences in risk protection from a wide variety of exposures to risk. Geographical differentials and segmentations caused by reforms and liberalizations refer to differences in geographical distribution of risks caused by differentiated economic and social outcomes insofar as those reforms and liberalizations are promoted segmentally depending on geographical criteria such as rural-urban, inland-coastal, etc. In China as an extremely complex risk society, risks themselves constitute a critical system of inequalities and may function as a social and political detonator in the process of post-socialist transition and development.

Compressed Modernity and Its Risk Component

Compressed Modernity

5As indicated above, I first presented the concept/theory of complex risk society as a critical manifestation of Korea’s compressed modernity in terms of various risk components and experiences, particularly accentuated in physical hazards and ecological threats. Thus, I will briefly elucidate the concept/theory of compressed modernity before elaborating on complex risk society in the contexts of contemporary Korea and China.

6Compressed modernity is defined as a civilisational condition in which economic, political, social and/or cultural changes take place in an extremely condensed manner in respect to both time and space, and in which the dynamic coexistence of mutually disparate historical and social elements leads to the construction and reconstruction of a highly complex and fluid social system (Chang 2017). Compressed modernity has been manifest at various levels of human existence and experience—that is, personhood, family, secondary organizations, urban/rural localities, societal units (including civil society, nation, etc.), world regions (continents), and, not least importantly, the global society. At each of these levels, people’s lives need to be managed intensely, intricately, and flexibly in order to remain normally integrated with the rest of society.

7Compressed modernity is composed of specific dimensions constituted interactively by the two axes of time/space and condensation/compression. The time facet includes both physical time (point, sequence and amount of time) and historical time (era, epoch and phase). The space facet includes physical space (location and area) and cultural space (place and region). Condensation/abridgement refers to the phenomenon that the physical process required for movement or change between two time points (eras) or between two locations (places) is abridged or compacted. Compression/complication refers to the phenomenon that diverse components of multiple civilizations that existed in different eras and/or places coexist in a certain delimited time-space and influence and change each other. The phenomena generated in these four dimensions, in turn, interact with each other in complicated ways and further generate different social phenomena.

  • 5 As compared to Harvey’s view that time-space condensation (on the global scale) accompanies the acc (...)
  • 6 In addition, the phenomena advanced by main theorists of postcolonialism (such as cultural “hybridi (...)

8The analytical schema of differentiating time and space and separating condensation and compression needs a logical justification.5 In a non-Western historical/social context in which Western modernity is conceived as the core source of civilisational as well as politico-military superiority, the West stands not just as a discrete region but also as a discrete moment in history. Where indigenously conscious efforts at civilisational rebirth were defeated by external forces or frustrated internally, the West often became both a direction for historical change (modernization) and a contemporaneous source of inter-civilisational remaking (Westernization in practice). The more condensed these changes become—that is, the faster modernization proceeds and the most fully Westernization takes place—the more successful the concerned countries tend to be considered (in spite of cultural and emotional irritations as well as political and economic sacrifices experienced by various indigenous groups). However, the very processes of modernization and Westernization endemically induce cultural and political backlashes on the part of adversely affected groups and, in frequent cases, systematically reinforce the traditional/indigenous civilisational components as these are deemed ironically useful for a strategic management of modernization and Westernization. Thereby compression/complication becomes inevitable among various discrete temporal and regional civilisational constituents.6

9While the concept/theory of compressed modernity has been developed mainly in respect to the complex civilization conditions of post-independence capitalist societies that are politically liberated from but still socioeconomically subordinated to Western capitalist societies, many state-socialist countries offer another critical instance of compressed modernity in their initial socialist revolution and system transition and in their recent post-socialist system reform. In fact, the latest civilisational and systemic conditions of so-called gradual reform countries (in particular, China) constitute a compressed modernity that is much more complex than that of capitalist developing/modernizing societies. For instance, the mutual complication of coexisting systemic and sociopolitical elements of socialist and post-socialist (partially and/or fully capitalist) systems has led to a civilisational complexity unmatched in human history. In what follows, China’s recent condition as a complex risk society is analyzed—in a comparative perspective vis-à-vis Korea—as a critical instance of precisely such civilisational complexity.

Risk Society, Complex Risk Society

10From the early 1990s, Koreans were celebrating their historical achievements in rapid economic development and robust political democratization amid the praise and envy of other late-developing/modernizing nations. This was symbolized by the country’s acceptance by the OECD in 1996. Paradoxically, a host of unprecedented physical disasters and accidents began to break out then, including the collapse of a huge bridge over Han River and a big department store in Seoul, the subway station fires in Seoul and Daegu, and so forth. Each of these incidents claimed tens or hundreds of innocent lives. In media coverage and social commentaries, these shocking accidents were instantly juxtaposed with the country’s shameful records of industrial and traffic accidents at some of the world’s highest levels as well as recurrent man-caused ecological disasters.

11As citizen safety was subjected to nearly indiscriminate threats, the Western discussions on “risk society” led by German sociologist Ulrich Beck attracted the immediate attention of Korean academics and experts. The material affluence accompanying sustained rapid industrialization and economic growth—namely, “compressed development” that enabled the country to catch up with the West in economic terms—came along with the unwelcome phenomenon of routinized accidents and disasters. Western societies have also faced enormous costs as a result of their development, from nuclear power-related accidents to the hazards of GM foods. In Ulrich Beck’s view, these accidents and disasters are not accidental events but rather routine aspects of daily life under advanced industrial capitalism.

12Korea’s economic development has also subjected the country to such symptoms of advanced risk society, including high-intensity industrial disasters at the supposedly advanced production lines of global leader enterprises. However, most of the above-mentioned disasters and accidents were not necessarily classifiable as symptoms of an advanced risk society. For instance, lack of rudimentary safety management has led to continuous instances of a sort of backward society-type disasters and accidents. During the monsoon season, due to obvious neglect or failure in basic preventive measures, many towns have been submerged under water and many villages buried in dirt from landslides. Across the country, what are cynically called “death roads”—poorly built roads left unmonitored or undermanaged—keep claiming human lives incessantly. In addition, Koreans have been afflicted by a wide range of slap-dash, or faultily rushed, society-type catastrophes, including the collapse of shoddily constructed buildings and infrastructures whose workmanship reveal commonplace irregularities and deviations. Furthermore, the country is also a compressive risk society in that the compressed pace of production, construction, consumption, and movement are inevitably accompanied by no less compressed extents of physical risks in safety. The particular manners and intensities of Korea’s compressed economic development and social change have made the country become a risk society with correspondingly particular characteristics. Korea can be defined as a complex risk society in which various risk factors and symptoms of developed, underdeveloped, slap-dash, and compressive societies are present simultaneously. The Korean condition of complex developmental temporalities is evident in terms of its risk configurations.

  • 7 Paul Krugman (1994), “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle”, Foreign Affairs, volume 73, number 6, pp. 62-78.

13To contemporary Koreans, their society is particularly problematic as a slap-dash and compressive risk society. Compressive society-type risks stem from the enormous economic and social changes Korea has undergone in a remarkably short period of time. As indicated by Krugman (1994), rapid economic growth in Asia has been achieved in large part by intensifying the mobilization (or exploitation) of labour and natural resources instead of improving the efficiency and safety of the production processes, ushering in a rapid increase of disasters and pollution.7 Korea’s rapid development has been manifested in terms of explosive growth in human activities of production, construction, consumption, and movement which in turn has been accompanied by no less explosive growth in risk factors and experiences. The costs of compressive risk society do not end here. There are dangers attending upon the rapid and ceaseless changes in industrial structures and technologies and public lifestyles. These changes are usually considered to be upgrading or progress, but the particular nature and pace of such changes, if undermanaged or mismanaged, can bring about various problematic consequences. The growth of Korea’s national economy and businesses has been a result of continuous diversification and upgrading of its industrial structure, and the change to citizens’ lives has been characterized by compulsively ceaseless exposure to unfamiliar lifestyles. This has placed South Koreans in the perpetual status of ‘novice’ or ‘learner’ during which accidents tend to accumulate. Moreover, while new production technologies and goods may outshine the old in terms of efficiency and utility, they are often much riskier if handled improperly. The dilemma of remaining a perpetual novice or learner is shared by both the general public and respective expert groups.

  • 8 This political trend has continued into the 21st century. For instance, Lee Myung-Bak won the presi (...)

14Korea’s publicly promoted processes of rapid economic growth and social modernization have helped formed a unique culture of speed efficiency—measuring the effectiveness of economic and social activities in terms of time spent. This culture has spawned rampant practices of corporate, governmental, and civil irresponsibility as to public safety, thereby making Korea a slap-dash risk society. On the national political level, whenever the ruling government sets forth a major policy goal—be it economic growth, infrastructure construction, crime control, or other—there was a keen interest in accomplishing it in the shortest time possible and presenting such speedy accomplishment as evidence of a superior government.8 On the corporate level, in response to explosive economic growth and industrial restructuring, a corporate growth strategy of completing each business project as fast as possible and moving into the next, more profitable projects has prevailed. Such governmental and corporate obsession with speed efficiency has resulted in the collusive aggravation of safety in production lines, construction sites, public spaces and infrastructures, as well as consumer lives. It has repeatedly been revealed that the government, far from enforcing strict rules, has tried to accomplish its national developmental goals by tacitly encouraging private enterprises and public agencies to run at “full” operational speed even if it would mean breaking safety regulations. The business community has had no qualms in complying because it implies quicker profits. In a sense, the developmental state’s obstinate policy line of “growth first, distribution later” has spawned a corresponding, albeit tacit, policy line of growth first, safety later, intensifying symptoms of a slap-dash risk society.

China as Complex Risk Society

15From the above-explained risk components of Korea’s compressed modernity, it is evident that risk society has its critical varieties in rapidly yet perilously developing political economies. Complex risk society is a societal manifestation of (Korea’s) compressed modernity with respect to its diverse risk components and experiences pertaining to multiple developmental temporalities such as developed, un(der)developed, and transformative stages/states of development. In what follows, I will show that China can also be defined as a complex risk society and that China’s risk types are compositionally much more complex than Korea’s. Chinese society in the post-Mao era has been experiencing many of the various risk syndromes repeatedly experienced by Korean society as it pursues rapid, externally dependent modernization and economic development while failing to overcome structural imbalances between sectors. Besides, the risk syndromes accompanying reforms of the socialist system, stacked on top of the risk syndromes carried over from the previous socialist era, have rendered China an extremely complex risk society.

  • 9 For instance, Chang Kyung-Sup (1993), “The Peasant Family in Transition from Maoist to Lewisian Rur (...)

16As China’s complex developmental temporalities are characterized not only by diverse stages of economic affluence but also by unique sequences of systemic transition (i.e., from state socialism to market capitalism), its risk components and structures are correspondingly complex. China’s past as a socialist system and its so-called “gradual” approach to system reform have generated various particular risk factors beneath the country’s apparently impressive achievement in economic development. The upkeep of various socialist institutions and practices in a market-capitalist era has inevitably been accompanied by the risk components of such institutions and practices and the additional risk elements embedded in the complicated coexistence of two mutually contradictory political economic systems. It has been observed that some of China’s pre-reform socioeconomic conditions have rather been conducive to its explosive post-socialist industrialization and economic growth, but there are corresponding risks accompanying such unexpected developmental uses of Chinese socialism.9

Coexistence of risks in developed and un(der)developed societies

17Spanning three decades since the late 1970s, China’s system reform and economic development have resulted in both a sharp rise in its international economic power and a spike in income and standard of living at the popular level. Behind this economic achievement, however, a deepening of complex inequalities has both weakened the ideological foundation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and also caused massive environmental hazards, industrial disasters, food contaminations and even fire and traffic accidents. This situation has fuelled collective anxiety about people’s physical safety. Moreover, safety accidents in many cases often superimpose themselves on existing political and economic inequalities, thus fanning public anger and desperation about the post-socialist living conditions.

18In many respects, China’s dilemma as complex risk society shows similarity to Korea both in its causes and manifest aspects, corresponding to the two country’s similarity in compressed national development driven by political authoritarianism and aggressive corporate management and the thereby arising complex developmental temporalities. With a government wholly committed to economic development, many aspects of Chinese society fall prey to this intentional degradation of safety. The problem of safety management is especially serious. Just as Korea’s “growth first, distribution later” policy has ultimately resulted in the conditions of growth first, safety later, China’s “prosperity first” (xianfu) strategy has brought about a similar safety crisis. However, China, with its territory, population and social complexity greatly surpassing those of Korea, is also extremely complex with regard to its internal composition of risks. Similarly, the political and social crises that could be caused by the disparity between economic growth and social safety would also be formidable, requiring a long time to be overcome.

  • 10 The state leadership, thinking that Chinese enterprises still lack the independent ability to devel (...)
  • 11 Even during the socialist period, China was subjected to such risks. Above all, China was not immun (...)

19On the other hand, China is already experiencing multiple risk syndromes similar to those that have affected Korea and other industrialized societies. Just like Korea, China has reaped full advantage from the “benefits of late development” including the advanced sciences and technologies of the West, but China’s developmental catching-up has further been accelerated on the basis of its own capacity for knowledge processing and production.10 However, dependence on advanced technologies from abroad results in more serious consequences than just exposing Chinese people to accompanying risk factors. China’s aggressive adoption of advanced overseas technologies to meet immediate economic needs often disturbs or critically damages the social, cultural, and ecological conditions of local communities, without a clear prospect for sustainable alternative development however.11 The aggressive pursuit of dependent industrial development has led to an explosion of risks accompanying high-efficiency industrial technologies, their first victims being grassroots workers and peasants.

China as a Compressive and Slap-Dash Risk Society

  • 12 For example, according to the aggregate data of the PRC’s National Bureau of Statistics, the number (...)

20China’s post-socialist economic growth, no less dramatic than Korea’s, has brought with it various symptoms of compressive risk society similar to those experienced by Koreans. From village/township enterprises (xiangzhenqiye) that led industrialization in the early reform period, to successful joint ventures now encompassing both coastal and inland areas, China’s new enterprises have pursued swift labor-intensive industrialization by harnessing the nation’s huge labour force, with an immediate success in “extensive economic growth”. Gaps between different sectors and regions notwithstanding, China’s economic growth has subjected most Chinese citizens to radical changes in the contents and densities of economic and social activities. The usual neglect of qualitative improvement in the production process in an extensively growing economy makes it impossible to fundamentally reduce risk factors and thereby subjects people to potential and actual physical dangers in proportion to rapid economic growth. Thus Chinese people must accept increasing numbers and types of unfamiliar risk factors as a part of their daily lives. National development as manifested in terms of an unprecedented growth of people’s production, construction, consumption and movement activities is inevitably marred by a no less dramatic growth of physical risks.12

21If China is to cope with these compressive society-type risks, she should greatly augment both public rules and infrastructures and organisational and cultural capacities for safety management. However, as the Chinese leadership has repeatedly admitted, infrastructural, organisational, and cultural defects in safety management remain chronic. In a situation where shocking disasters and accidents continue unabated and thereby become more ordinary than accidental in character, only political stop-gap measures like the censure and reshuffling of officials are routine. A sort of “cultural lag” in safety management has critically tarnished China’s material achievement as a high-growth economy and society. On the other hand, explosive development has been coupled with a radical expansion of new technologies, industries, commodities, and lifestyles, requiring Chinese people’s equally radical efforts at understanding, mastering, and/or adapting to such technologies, etc. The danger of becoming a perpetual novice and thereby incurring various physical risks is endemic. This danger is amplified in proportion to both the Chinese leadership’s ambition for rapid economic growth and people’s desire for instant material enrichment.

22There has been an explosion of slap-dash society-type risks as well. The Communist regime has abandoned its socialist economic principles under the banner of pragmatism and is now struggling to sustain its political rule through high economic growth and industrialization. This political line has openly encouraged one-party state cadres to achieve economic results with any measures and at all costs and tacitly endorsed entrepreneurs’ unethical pursuit of corporate growth and profits. (Such attitudes of cadres and entrepreneurs have further been bolstered since the Beijing Olympics as the strengthened ideology of Chinese nationalism and growing hegemonic struggle with the United States are intensifying a sort of developmental patriotism.) This situation is bound to engender widespread irregularities in safety management and abuses of dangerous production procedures and inputs. In rural areas, local governments make local economic development their top priority, leading to their overt collusion with local entrepreneurs in sociopolitical and financial terms which in turn induce various governmental and corporate malpractices threatening the security and safety of local people such as workers, consumers, and residents.

  • 13 Ulrich Beck (1999), World Risk Society, Cambridge: Polity.
  • 14 Chinese people’s pride and sense of relief after a successful Olympics was immediately rocked by th (...)

23An especially serious manifestation of China as a slap-dash risk society is the so-called “counterfeit economy”, i.e., the manufacture and distribution of a flood of knock-offs and bogus commodities churned out at an unfathomable pace. Such counterfeit commodities are shoddily produced and use harmful materials that pose safety threats not only to Chinese people but to consumers all over the world. China as “the world’s factory” has also served as a prime manufacturer of physical and social risks for the global community and thereby become a key axis of the “world risk society”.13 At the root of this economic trend is a cohesive system of corruption linking politico-bureaucratic power with corporate interests under China’s developmentalist political rule.14 Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic “black cat, white cat” has produced a critical side-effect of nurturing the governmental, entrepreneurial, and civilian common ethos of placing economic outcomes above all other social values, with the counterfeit economy serving as one of the most discomforting black cats.

24To make matters worse, the half-way reform of the “rule of law” as China’s new system of political governance makes it difficult for China to depart from a slap-dash risk society. In Korea, strict regulatory laws do exist to counter risks of a slap-dash society, but distortions and compromises remain rampant in their enforcement. In China, not only are regulatory laws insufficient and easily ignored, structural vulnerabilities in the “rule of law” due to the heavily centralized and un(der)differentiated state power make it difficult to fundamentally remove the risks of a slap-dash society. When safety accidents occur and incur serious social sacrifices, this is followed by the censure or punishment of certain supervisory officials as well as related responsible civilians, often leaving the systemic nature of a slap-dash risk society unchanged.

China as a System-Transition Risk Society

25Reform brought explosive changes to China economically, culturally, and socially. However, compared to Russia and Eastern Europe, China has been relatively “gradual” (or gradualist) in remodelling its system. The CCP still sits on a power monopoly and exercises far-reaching social control, and reforms have not swept away the socialist system in one fell swoop. China’s adoption of market rules and capitalist practices has been regionally differentiated and sectorally sequenced in accordance with specific pragmatic necessities for such ideologically regressive measures. This process, called “the socialist market economy”, involves a lengthy period in which socialist and capitalist rules coexist so that their respective social uses are mutually complementary. But such coexistence also brings about costly side-effects as the respective socioeconomic conditions and effects of socialist and capitalist principles are intricately distorted due to the presence of mutually contradictory systems. Added to this are the separately inherent problems of both socialism and capitalism. China’s gradual reform has engendered an unprecedentedly complicated state of affairs as a social system and thereby made China a complex risk society that is much more complex than Korea.

  • 15 See Eduard B. Vermeer (1998), “Industrial Pollution in China and Remedial Policies,” China Quarterl (...)
  • 16 See Lee Gang-Won (2007), Desert China: Changes in China’s Land Use and Desertification (in Chinese) (...)
  • 17 See Louis Putterman (1995), “The Role of Ownership and Property Rights in China’s Economic Transiti (...)

26Due to the selectively prioritized execution of post-socialist reform in consideration of the dissimilar potentials of market economic development between industries and regions, various socialist institutions and practices and their risk factors have continued to influence people’s lives. The dire realities of heavily industrialized inland areas—the greatest hurdle in economic reform—were dealt with by arbitrary support, by public funds, of state and collective enterprises that possessed neither organisational efficiency nor market competitiveness. In this difficult situation, it was practically impossible to fundamentally rectify various risk factors embedded in state-socialist heavy industries, including hazardous working environments and ecological destructions in particular.15 Under the excessive expansion of urban spaces and rampant conversion of farmlands into non-agricultural uses, on the other hand, regional governments and local communities have tried to develop new areas for agriculture in ecologically hazardous manners reminiscent of the socialist era. In particular, the widespread desertification of Northern China is a crucially costly outcome, haunting not only Chinese people but also their East Asian neighbours.16 Also, the unique farming system that allows Chinese peasants to individually cultivate collectively owned farmlands is suspected to be ecologically disruptive as it tacitly encourages excessive abuse of soil at the expense of its own preservation.17

27Nationwide expansion of the market economy and the spread of capitalist principles across industries have now rendered China’s market economy far more capitalist than socialist in character. But there are fundamental flaws in the capitalist market economy’s ability to ensure the citizens’ security. Furthermore, the capitalist market economy generates a variety of risk factors as “externalities” and even as commodities. Accordingly, the majority of advanced market economy societies have designated and implemented, as a core task of the capitalist state, the prevention and management of risks related to industrial activity and the monitoring and regulation of harmful products. While the Chinese government apparently understands these structural issues in the market economy and the need for systemic responses, its inexperience in public risk management is no less worrisome than the immaturity of the market economy it governs. (The risk structure is further exacerbated when combined with the power of a non-democratic state or corrupt cadres.)

  • 18 For an in-depth critical study regarding the political deterioration of the developmental(ist) stat (...)
  • 19 See Xiabo Lu (2000), “Booty Socialism, Bureau-preneurs, and the State in Transition: Organizational (...)

28The market economy harbours fundamental risks, but it also has the potential to filter out risk factors through autonomous adjustment functions. If a product is found to be dangerous, consumption stops; if a workplace exposes workers to hazards, it will not attract a high-quality workforce; and if a corporate activity harms the ecological environment, a variety of related groups will shun the company or demand it compensate for the damage incurred. Yet from the initial stages of its development, post-Mao China’s market economy has been subjected to powerful intervention and sponsorship from the so-called “developmental state” both at central and local levels. If corporate activities posing serious risk problems are artificially concealed to achieve the political goal of the developmental state—namely, rapid economic growth at the national and local levels—and the market’s risk adjustment functions are paralyzed, China’s current downward spiral as a risk society will continue unabated.18 Aside from these growth-related politics, China’s countless companies merely switched their name tag from state to privately or jointly owned enterprises while remaining subject to state interference and the interests of one-party state offices and cadres in everything from shareholding and management structure to production and sales activities. For this reason, it is difficult to expect that the state will properly monitor and control companies’ risk-taking. For these reasons, many companies that inflict social harm and are punished are often found to have colluded with state officials and cadres. This brand of corruption is routinely justified, ostensibly citing the objectives of the development-oriented state at the local and central levels.19

  • 20 Emile Durkheim ([1933]1997), The Division of Labor in Society, New York: Free Press.

29The societal pitfalls of the (presently existing) development-oriented states do not stop there. Emile Durkheim, who understood the division of labour in modern liberal industrial society (market economy) as a tacit, collective contractual relationship, proposed the concept of the “non-contractual basis of the contract” in order to explain that social constituents have a reciprocal duty to comply with autonomous norms beyond the force of laws or contractual arrangements.20 For Durkheim, this provides a normative basis for an “organic solidarity” in industrial society—a social infrastructure that helps to fundamentally reduce (what economists call) “transaction costs” and ultimately serves as the cultural foundation for a liberal state. The development states in China and Korea, despite or in part because of their remarkable effectiveness in nurturing rapid economic growth, seem to have structurally hindered a historical process of establishing this social infrastructure. Their development of an alliance with or sponsoring of strategically chosen industries and enterprises and, in fact, their indiscriminate regulatory generosity for corporate interests and activities frequently betray ordinary citizens when the latter, as workers, consumers, and local residents, need to expect and trust the former’s responsible behaviours in everyday economic activities and livelihood.

  • 21 Unfortunately, this problem is known to have been particularly serious in Korean-owned companies in (...)
  • 22 A serious problem in this respect is the lack of corporate interest, given the leniency of the stat (...)

30Aside from the politically produced obstacle to setting up the sociocultural foundation for a sustainable market economy, there are additional system transition risks stemming from former socialist citizens’ unfamiliarity with, maladjustments to, and moral rejections of the suddenly imposed orders of the market economy. China’s new market economy may serve as a tremendous material opportunity for some astute individuals and groups, but it cannot but be a source of social chaos and anxiety for ordinary citizens as novices to the new economic system. This is particularly and symbolically manifest in widespread labour disputes, industrial accidents, and physical and mental injuries experienced by Chinese workers in foreign capitalist enterprises in the so-called Special Economic Zones that are bent upon a ruthless implementation of supposedly free market principles. But Chinese-owned/managed enterprises are no exception.21 In fact, they could be worse because of a lack of long-term experience in managing labour relations and safety regulations. 22

  • 23 For instance, coal mine accidents have kept claiming human lives at internationally unparalleled le (...)

31Besides the painful plight of ordinary Chinese people as market system novices, they also suffer from a dire lack of the resources needed to be competitive. Market-oriented reform necessitates the rapid and continuous introduction of new industries and technologies to meet the demands of domestic and overseas market conditions, but does not necessarily presuppose or assist ordinary citizens’ securing of basic resources for new economic activities. The majority of those expected to “know the ropes” used to be socialist proletariat with no private assets, whose work experience instantly loses economic value when the development potential of their work units is suddenly negated. (This is less likely to be a problem for farmers who are still guaranteed the individual right to cultivate collectively owned land, growing similar crops as in the past.) Many of those suddenly reborn into uncompetitive elements as “production inputs” in the capitalist market economy are forced to pursue, as a strategy for overcoming such handicaps, economic activities with various risk-ridden contents or procedures.23 The willingness to expose themselves to hazardous working conditions becomes a decisive factor to be competitive on the market. This is particularly evident among “illegal” migrant workers in megacities (dubbed mangliu). It is paradoxical that the Chinese government perceives them as a risk factor at the societal level.

The Distribution Structure of Risk under China’s Politico-Social Order

32As seen above, post-Mao China is a far more complex risk society than Korea. In terms of the composition of risk factors, China is simultaneously a developed risk society, an un(der)developed risk society, a compressive risk society, a slap-dash risk society, and a transition risk society. It is no wonder that Chinese people’s everyday life is beset with routinized fear and anxiety over safety and security. Making daily life safe appears as important a national task as protecting the country from foreign aggression. A detailed look at China’s current situation reveals that risks are unevenly distributed and experienced not only due to each person’s unequal economic status but also by her/his position in the nation’s complex sociopolitical hierarchy. In today’s China as an extremely complex risk society, risk itself constitutes a crucial factor of social inequality, creating a social and political “Achilles heel” for the post-socialist transition and development.

  • 24 See Friederike Fleischer (2007), “To Choose a House Means to Choose a Lifestyle: The Consumption of (...)
  • 25 In the midst of the melamine powdered milk scandal, some Chinese were rushing to Hong Kong to buy s (...)
  • 26 The Special Food Supply Center (Tebieshifintigongzhongxin) established and operated by the state si (...)

33Above all, the rapidly growing material gaps between rich and poor under the expansion of market-based economic activities and the weakening of socialist welfare benefits have also engendered notably dissimilar statuses in risk exposure and control. In the early years of reform, growth in income inequality was not severe and the main material disparity was derived from the desire of the relatively rich to make up for the “foregone consumption” of the socialist era. However, as the deepening of reform pushed income equality above the level of many capitalist developing economies, class disparity began to be characterized no less by ‘the quality of consumption’ than by ‘the quantity of consumption’, with safety becoming an increasingly essential component of the quality of consumed commodities. Safe houses and residential environments, safe foods and water, safe cars, and a host of other supposedly safe commodities have made their spotlighted debut in the market. Such commoditization of safety has been intensified in proportion to the widening income inequality.24 At the same time, a flood of fake and hazardous goods have made product safety a crucial concern for Chinese people at all income levels. Unfortunately, poor people whose income level does not allow avoidance of this risk-ridden commodity market cannot but experience grave frustration and alienation.25 With regard to food in particular, the revelation that there exist special institutions for providing safe products exclusively for party and government leaders generated grave repercussions in public sentiments.26 A crucial implication of such behaviour on the part of China’s core national elite is the growing probability that safety will have to be secured as a market commodity by financially capable consumers rather than as a public good for all citizens.

  • 27 Consumer movements can play an important role as a response to such structures of inequality, but C (...)

34Among the political and social orders most fundamental to China’s reform period, three are closely entangled with the social structure of risk: the authoritarian state-citizen relationship; exclusionary citizenship and discriminatory economic activities among different social groups; and spatial differentials and segmentations of reform measures and processes. First, the relationship between the authoritarian state and citizens refers to the safety threats faced by ordinary citizens as the monopolistic power of the one-party state is abused to the exclusive benefits of one-party state offices and cadres at various levels and their crony clients in business. These threats mainly take the form of mortal safety-related accidents and corporate wrongdoings against a backdrop of routinized corruption. With respect to risks knowingly or unknowingly produced by those enterprises still largely undifferentiated from the one-party state (or its cadres) or newly established in the interests of power elites, it can hardly be expected that the dictatorial state will aggressively enforce safety monitoring and control from the standpoint of all ordinary citizens.27 Also, the development-based political conversion of the national and local state leaderships often induces them to close their eyes to various risk factors produced by enterprises with heavy shares in national and local economic growth as a sort of industrial policy in effect. The reality that power inequalities lead to risk inequalities no doubt presents a serious obstacle to the long-term durability of the one-party state’s monopoly over political and social power.

  • 28 See Chang Kyung-Sup (2003), “Politics of Partial Marketization: State and Class Relations in Post-M (...)
  • 29 See Dorothy J. Solinger (1999), Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, (...)
  • 30 This is in line with the fate of unregistered foreign workers who cannot go to a hospital even when (...)

35Second, the market economy system of the reform period has not replaced the socioeconomic discrimination structure of the earlier socialist period, but has instead added additional discriminatory components, engendering an extremely complex structure of socioeconomic discrimination. This complexity is directly manifest in the risk society dimension as well. The earlier rigid framework of socioeconomic separation and discrimination between peasants and urban workers has been further compounded into a highly multifarious class structure composed of peasants, workers of collective rural enterprises (xiangzhenqiye), rural-to-urban temporary migrant workers (nongmingong or mingong), urban workers of state and collective enterprises, private enterprises, and various types of joint venture enterprises, self-employed entrepreneurs (getihu), retired or unemployed persons, and so forth.28 This complex array of Chinese citizens are diversely subjected to multilayered discriminations and exclusions in economic activities, social security entitlements, and risk protections.29 Particularly problematic are mingong and unemployed urbanites, who are compelled to accept for sheer survival such low-wage and high-risk jobs as are avoided by others, but are often excluded from regular institutional assistances even when their risk exposure leads to a serious need for urgent rescue and long-term treatment.30 Besides, due to the largely insufficient and deformed structure of the state-arranged social security system, peasants and self-employed persons are much less likely to be properly protected from various risk factors than ordinary urban workers.

  • 31 See Lee Gang-Won (2007), Desert China: Changes in China’s Land Use and Desertification (in Chinese) (...)
  • 32 Actual examples include increase in mines unaccompanied by sufficient risk management and in dam co (...)

36Finally, reflecting its huge territory, population size, and magnitude and complexity of the economic and social system, China’s reform has proceeded with remarkable spatial differentials and segmentations. Accordingly, there are significant spatial differences in the variety and distribution of risks as well. Reform has been executed with wide spatial segmentations between urban and rural areas, between coastal and inland areas, and so on, with corresponding spatial segmentations in the generation and experience of risk factors. Urban and rural areas have been subjected to significant differences in general industrial, ecological and everyday life disasters. Besides, accelerated urbanization has caused pervasive ecological destructions and industrial pollutions in the quickly expanded new urban areas and their vicinities, whereas the consequently exacerbated shortage of farmlands has induced disastrously hasty land development for cropping and animal husbandry, leading to the rapid desertification of Northern China.31 The inland-coast risk differentials mostly fall on rural-urban differentials because urbanization in the reform period has been concentrated in coastal areas. In addition, the structural economic depression and harsh natural environments of the Western and Northeastern regions are not only responsible for many immediate risk factors but also help accumulate the additional risk factors involved, on the one hand, by the aggressive voluntary development efforts of the concerned local governments and communities and, on the other hand, the will of the central leadership to develop them according to the strategic needs of China as a whole.32

Conclusion and Prospects

37This study has analyzed post-Mao China as a complex risk society in which social, economic, and ecological risk syndromes pertaining to highly diverse levels and systems of development occur simultaneously. Complex risk society is a theoretical extension of Ulrich Beck’s thesis on risk society, focusing on complex developmental temporalities that are pervasively symptomatic of rapidly but asymmetrically developing political economies. In my earlier study, Korea was also defined as a complex risk society in which risk syndromes of developed, un(der)developed, and compressively developing societies are concurrently generated. In the current study, post-Mao China is also analyzed as a complex risk society comparable to Korea. Paradoxically, due to its explosive development in the post-Mao era which even dwarfs Korea, China is now confronted with all of its capitalist neighbour’s risk syndromes. Besides, due to its so-called gradual approach to system reform, China is beset with a complicated mix of socialist and post-socialist (marketized) syndromes of risks. Gradual reform is in practice a sort of peripatetic pluralism in economic and social reform for maximizing developmental utilities of all types of human, material, and institutional resources—a policy line inevitably accompanied by similarly plural sources and factors for social, economic, and ecological risks. The unprecedented temporal and systemic complexity in China’s risk structure has crucial implications for the country’s much deplored tendency for inequalities. In particular, class inequalities and regional disparities seem to be manifest in risk dimensions no less critically than in material dimensions. The state’s development-based approach alone is no solution for risk inequalities or complexities.

38Based upon the theoretical classification of China’s highly diverse risk society syndromes and the detailed examination of their composition and distribution in conjunction with China’s economic, political, and social orders, it is concluded that China is a more complex risk society than Korea. The extreme complexity of China as a risk society is embedded in the unique historical process of gradually transitioning from a socialist system to a market system under the continuing dictatorship of the Communist one-party state. Considering the particularity of China’s political power, its immense population, territory, and economy, and its relative low level of development, such a transition cannot but be a very long process. Likewise, many serious economic, social, political, and ecological threats faced by China as a complex risk society need to be coped with by strenuous collective efforts by the state and its citizens over a very long period of time. In fact, numerous developing countries that have concentrated upon capitalist development alone—that is, without undergoing a complicated process of system transition like China—are still struggling to firmly establish the basic market economic order. In this regard, China’s future is well expected to be full of severe obstacles, including extremely diverse risk factors and syndromes.

  • 33 South China Morning Post, 28 September 2008.

39Finally, just as the quality of Korea as a complex risk society has been considered an essential manifestation of compressed modernity, China’s complex risk structure can be seen as a key reflection of its compressed modernity. In fact, China as a complex risk society more complex than Korea seems to constitute a compressed modernity more compressed than Korea’s. This of course reflects its historical particularity of transitioning from a socialist to a market system. From Russia (as the political originator of socialism) to China, socialism was once upheld as an alternative paradigm of modernity. Now, China is trying a transition to the (ultimately capitalist) market economy, which is a competiting paradigm of modernity to socialism. However, the historical reality currently experienced by China is an extremely compressed modernity in which systemic elements of both socialism and capitalism coexist and the institutions, ideologies, social relations, and in which organizations show, depending on situational conditions, both advanced and backward qualities and both rapid changes and strong inertia. A Hong Kong media source, by remarking “the contaminated powdered milk scandal halved China’s great historical achievement of spacewalk”, pointed to the paradox that China attracted the whole world’s attention in a diametrically contrasting way in terms of achieving the world’s third spacewalk by Shenzhou 7 and the melamin-added powdered milk peddled worldwide.33 This paradox is an expression of compressed modernity and reveals the essential nature of China as a complex risk society.

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Notes

1 See Chang Kyung-Sup (1999), “Compressed Modernity and Its Discontents: South Korean Society in Transition,” Economy and Society, volume 28, number 1, pp. 30-55. These shocking accidents were immediately followed by an unprecedented national financial crisis in late 1997, revealing the commonly risk-beset nature of both the social and economic systems.

2 Chang Kyung-Sup (1998), “Risk Components of Compressed Modernity: South Korea as Complex Risk Society,” Korea Journal, volume 38, number 4, pp.207-228.

3 There is a growing interest in the risk society perspective among Chinese scholars. Examples of major research achievements within China include Yang Xuedong, et al. (2006), Risk Society and Order Reconstruction (in Chinese), Beijing: Social Science Literature Publishing Company. Some outside scholars have tried to analyze reform-era China from the viewpoint of risk society, but their substantive scopes and theoretical perspectives are much narrower than my analysis here. Their analytical interests are centered upon the transparency of corporate activities and the regulatory capacity of the state. For related papers, see Paul Thiers (2003), “Risk Society Comes to China: SARS, Transparency and Public Accountability,” Asian Perspective, volume 27, number 2, pp. 241-251; Elizabeth Wishnick (2005), “China as a Risk Society,” East-West Center Working Papers: Politics, Governance, and Security Series, number 12 (September 2005).

4 This situation is interestingly paralleled in the arduous experiences of North Korean refugees in South Korea, as revealed in many interview-based studies. See Kim Hwa-Sun and Shin Jae-Yeong (2005), “A Case Study on Types of North Korean Refugees’ Employment Expectations: Focusing on Their Relationship with the Employment Support System” (in Korean), Studies in Unification Affairs, volume 17, number 1, pp. 191-212.

5 As compared to Harvey’s view that time-space condensation (on the global scale) accompanies the accumulation crisis of capitalism at each stage and the aggressive effort to overcome it, the time-space condensation and compression in compressed modernity at national and other levels involve much more diverse historical backgrounds, factors, and initiators. In a sense, Harvey may be regarded as suggesting a sort of global-scale compressed modernity as a distinctive stage of (both modern and postmodern) capitalism. This stage has been further accentuated by global neoliberalism since the 1980s, largely through the same logic and/or crisis of capitalism. See David Harvey (1980), The Condition of Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell.

6 In addition, the phenomena advanced by main theorists of postcolonialism (such as cultural “hybridity”, “syncrecity”, etc.) can also be included in time-space compression. If this literary criticism-derived theory is extended to cover social phenomena in general, most authors of postcolonialism seem to acknowledge the status of politically liberated Third World grassroots and intellectuals as concrete historical and social subjects, but still think that their spiritual, material, and institutional life has not fundamentally overcome colonial and/or neocolonial (Western) cultures and values, but has combined the latter with indigenous elements in diverse ways. However, it needs to be pointed out that the breadth of cultures and institutions that are subject to compression here is much wider than that is suggested by postcolonialism so as to include even postmodern and global elements. It also needs to be pointed out that the facets of compression here are not limited to hybridity or syncrecity but involve competition, collision, disjointing, articulation, compounding, etc. See Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (1989), The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature. London: Routledge.

7 Paul Krugman (1994), “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle”, Foreign Affairs, volume 73, number 6, pp. 62-78.

8 This political trend has continued into the 21st century. For instance, Lee Myung-Bak won the presidential election in 2007 with the so-called “747” pledge—namely, average annual economic growth of 7 percent, per capita income of 40 000 US dollars, and the world’s seventh largest economy, to be achieved within his eventual presidency (http://english.mbplaza.net/default/korea/?type=html/747_01&wgrp =42&m=2). Unfortunately, none of his economic pledges were fulfilled, whereas his presidency would later be criticized as the worst political instance of ecological destruction, due to his nation-wide river development project.

9 For instance, Chang Kyung-Sup (1993), “The Peasant Family in Transition from Maoist to Lewisian Rural Industrialisation,” Journal of Development Studies, volume 29, number 2, pp. 220-244.

10 The state leadership, thinking that Chinese enterprises still lack the independent ability to develop high-level industrial technologies, is eager to prepare a decisive turning point, but the achievement of Chinese enterprises seems to be downplayed due to the comparative reference to the world’s very best enterprises. This point was made by a member of the delegation of the PRC’s Department of Commerce to Korea during an informal discussion with the author.

11 Even during the socialist period, China was subjected to such risks. Above all, China was not immune to the adverse ecological, social and economic side-effects of the West-led “green revolution”. See Susantha Goonatilake (1984), Aborted Discovery: Science and Creativity in the Third World, London: Zed Books. China’s green revolution is still ongoing. For instance, the officially tallied national usage of pesticide continued to explode: 17 760,000 tons in 1985, 35 950 000 tons in 1995, 47 660 000 tons in 2005, 55 616 800 tons in 2010, and 60 226 000 tons in 2015 (www.stats.gov.cn). Some scholars claim that China does have a systematic approach regarding the potential harm and local appropriateness of advanced technologies from overseas. See Jennifer H. Zhao and Peter Ho (2005), “A Developmental Risk Society? The Politics of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in China,” International Journal of Environmental and Sustainable Development, volume 4, number 4, pp. 370-394.

12 For example, according to the aggregate data of the PRC’s National Bureau of Statistics, the number of traffic fatalities nationwide grew from 71 494 in 1995, to 93 853 in 2000 and 98 738 in 2005, but decreased to 65 225 in 2010 and 58 022 in 2015 (www.stats.gov.cn). In 2003, 104 372 people died in traffic accidents, accounting for 15% of the world’s traffic fatalities (www.yonhapnews.co.kr, 15 Sep 2004). The number of licensed drivers in China increases by an astounding eleven million every year, with many of them allowed to drive without sufficient driving skills under the highly lenient licensing regulations.

13 Ulrich Beck (1999), World Risk Society, Cambridge: Polity.

14 Chinese people’s pride and sense of relief after a successful Olympics was immediately rocked by the “melamine dairy scandal” of which Sanlu Group in Hebei Province was found as a key culprit. Moreover, Chinese netizens were shocked by a web report that this company had deceptively changed its name to Xinshida and even participated in the milk-tasting event organized by the local city government to revive the dairy industry (www.soundofhope.or.kr). According to netizens’ revelations, immediately after the melamine dairy scandal, this company changed its name and was taken over by Sanyuan Group, which supply dairy products to high-level officials. This situation can only be explained as a back-scratching alliance of the state and businesses.

15 See Eduard B. Vermeer (1998), “Industrial Pollution in China and Remedial Policies,” China Quarterly, number 156, pp.952-985.

16 See Lee Gang-Won (2007), Desert China: Changes in China’s Land Use and Desertification (in Chinese), Seoul: Politeia.

17 See Louis Putterman (1995), “The Role of Ownership and Property Rights in China’s Economic Transition,” China Quarterly, number 144, pp.1047-64.

18 For an in-depth critical study regarding the political deterioration of the developmental(ist) state in China, see Minxin Pei (2006), China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

19 See Xiabo Lu (2000), “Booty Socialism, Bureau-preneurs, and the State in Transition: Organizational Corruption in China,” Comparative Politics, volume 32, number 3, pp. 273-294; Jonathan Unger and Anita Chan (1999), “Inheritors of the Boom: Private Enterprise and the Role of Local Government in a Rural South China Township,” China Journal, volume 42, number 1, pp. 45-74.

20 Emile Durkheim ([1933]1997), The Division of Labor in Society, New York: Free Press.

21 Unfortunately, this problem is known to have been particularly serious in Korean-owned companies in China. This author also observed a similar situation during a collective field study on various ownership types of industrial enterprises in Shandong Province in 1996. Its result is published in: Chang Kyung-Sup (2001), “China Reverse Proletarianization: The Policy and Institutional Environments and Shandong Workers’ Experiences,” International and Area Studies, volume 10, number 4, pp. 23-56. Of course, the ruthless exploitation and risk experiences of domestic migrant workers in the early days of Korean industrialization and the similar experiences of foreign migrant workers in recent years may be explained in the same context. But this similarity could never persuade Chinese workers and officials.

22 A serious problem in this respect is the lack of corporate interest, given the leniency of the state (local governments), in improving hazardous work environments responsible for various occupational diseases and epidemical industrial accidents. In August 2008, at an international conference held in Beijing, an official from the Department of Public Hygiene shocked the audience by confessing “Toxic and harmful enterprises number more than sixteen million, and workers suffering from occupational diseases number no less than two hundred million” (Media Daum, 9 December 2006).

23 For instance, coal mine accidents have kept claiming human lives at internationally unparalleled levels and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) infect female sex workers in incalculable numbers. Such trends speak of the realities of risk exposure by the masses who must make their living “with their body”. In particular, China’s coal mine accidents became a sort of “national shame”. In 2001, there were 2 384 coal mine accidents with 6 078 deaths, and these numbers subsequently changed to: 3 112 accidents, 6 528 deaths in 2002, 4 142 accidents, 6 424 deaths in 2003, 3 853 accidents, 6 027 deaths in 2004, and 3 341 accidents, 5 986 deaths in 2005 (www.chinasafety.gov.cn/newpage), Thereafter, the corresponding figures kept declining to 1 403 accidents, 2 433 deaths in 2010 and 352 accidents, 598 deaths in 2015. In the early 2000s, the number of accident-related deaths by unit of production in China’s coal mines remained more than ten times the average of all developing nations (Newsis, 24 August 2007). Most of China’s miners are peasant workers (nongmingong) pouring out of impoverished rural areas. So are female sex workers.

24 See Friederike Fleischer (2007), “To Choose a House Means to Choose a Lifestyle: The Consumption of Housing and Class-Structuration in Urban China,” City and Society, volume 19, number 2, pp. 287-311. Also, Yuan Hao (2017), “Does Green Consumption Improve Subjective Well Being? Evidence from Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou”, Paper presented at the International Conference on “Social Development and Structure Change”, hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Shanghai University, 15-16 July 2017, Shanghai University.

25 In the midst of the melamine powdered milk scandal, some Chinese were rushing to Hong Kong to buy safely consumable powdered milk. This is a measure available only to the rich and further aggravates the frustration of poor people concerning risk.

26 The Special Food Supply Center (Tebieshifintigongzhongxin) established and operated by the state since 2004 was reported to have secretly and exclusively provided hundreds of top-level cadres and their families with “aristocratic foodstuffs”, including “hormone-free beef bred and slaughtered on Mongolian pastures, organic tea grown in the foothills of Tibet, rice cultivated in melted snow water from Zhangbai Mountain, fish from Hubei Province famous for rice and fish, and so forth” (Associate Press, 25 September 2008). Chinese society was rocked by the revelation on the internet that the director of this institution once commented during a meeting with food industry managers “All of us well know that chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics, among others, are widely used in the production of ordinary food products. Needless to say, this causes fatal consequences to humans”.

27 Consumer movements can play an important role as a response to such structures of inequality, but Chinese civil society is not yet emboldened or effectively organized to take strong initiatives in this direction.

28 See Chang Kyung-Sup (2003), “Politics of Partial Marketization: State and Class Relations in Post-Mao China,” in Alvin So (ed.), China’s Developmental Miracle: Origins, Transformations, and Challenges, pp.265-288, Armonk: M. E. Sharpe.

29 See Dorothy J. Solinger (1999), Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logic of the Market, Berkeley: University of California Press.

30 This is in line with the fate of unregistered foreign workers who cannot go to a hospital even when injured at work because they fear punishment and deportation for staying illegally.

31 See Lee Gang-Won (2007), Desert China: Changes in China’s Land Use and Desertification (in Chinese), Seoul: Politeia. According to the State Forestry Bureau, about twenty percent of China’s territory has been subjected to desertification (www.china.com.cn./chinese/huanjing/1245632.htm).

32 Actual examples include increase in mines unaccompanied by sufficient risk management and in dam construction projects without proper environmental impact assessments.

33 South China Morning Post, 28 September 2008.

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Chang Kyung-Sup, « China as a Complex Risk Society », Temporalités [En ligne], 26 | 2017, mis en ligne le 13 février 2018, consulté le 22 mai 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/temporalites/3810 ; DOI : 10.4000/temporalites.3810

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Auteur

Chang Kyung-Sup

Professor of Sociology
Seoul National University
changks@snu.ac.kr

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