In the early years of reform in China in the 1980s it seemed everyone was a winner. Farms were decollectivised allowing farmers to grow and sell more food and keep the profits. Millions of new jobs were created in factories in the special enterprise zones. The old state-owned enterprises were largely untouched and the “iron rice bowl” of a job for life, pensions, rudimentary health care and free education (though never available to everyone) was still intact for many. The 1980s were the years of the Chinese dream.
But after Tian’anmen and Deng Xiaoping’s renewal of the Party’s reforming zeal on his southern tour in 1992 state-owned enterprises which had been previously unaffected by economic reform were restructured. Loss-making factories closed and work units were combined into something like modern corporations, though the Party still owned at least a 70 per cent stake. Millions became unemployed and the “iron rice bowl” was peremptorily smashed. Their old communities have been demolished and ways of life abandoned. If they were lucky they got tiny, isolated flats in poorly built tower blocks as compensation. There is no longer anywhere to do tai ji or take the caged birds out for a stroll. More seriously, without a job or welfare support they have no prospect of prosperity or wellbeing. Too often they were cheated out of their meager entitlements and got nothing.