Gender dynamics and redundancy in urban China.

Feminist Economics 13(3 – 4), July/October 2007, 125 – 158

Jieyu Liu

This paper focuses on employment narratives recounted in life history interviews with women workers in Nanjing, China. Drawing on feminist perspectives on gender and global economic changes, it examines the microprocesses that underpinned China’s economic restructuring and, through a gender-based analysis, shows how working women lost out in this process. After an overview of the institutional context in which China’s economic restructuring occurred, this paper examines women’s experiences in the workplace and identi?es factors that contributed to their disadvantageous position in the work unit and that increased their vulnerability in the changing labor market. The evidence of gender inequality, assumptions about women’s labor capacities, and the gendered consequences of economic restructuring suggest that older, less educated women workers, mostly from the Cultural Revolution generation, are unlikely to gain any bene?t from whatever advantages accrue from China’s economic integration into the global economy.

China, state sector reform, unemployment, gender, qualitative research

JEL Codes: P31, J64, J7

INTRODUCTION State enterprises were once the main livelihood for urban workers in China, providing lifetime employment, housing, and welfare. However, with the market reforms of the 1980s – 90s, many enterprises faced painful choices of mergers, closures, or bankruptcy, and millions of workers were thrown out of their work units, danwei.1 Since market reforms began, women have been especially hard hit: though women are a minority (about 40 percent) of the workforce, females have comprised a majority (about 60 percent) of laid-off workers (Gale Summer?eld 1994; Zhang Qiujian 1999; Shufeng Song 2003), and these female workers have become an ‘‘urban underclass’’ (Wang Zheng 2000: 66). When China formally joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 2001, the state media hailed this as a chance to boost prosperity, but some researchers postulated that it would
Feminist Economics ISSN 1354-5701 print/ISSN 1466-4372 online ? 2007 IAFFE http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13545700701445322


worsen the situation of urban redundant workers and widen the income gap between men and women (Dorothy J. Solinger 2003; United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] et al. 2003). Drawing upon ?eldwork in Nanjing in 2003, this paper focuses on older women’s experiences of working life and redundancy and the gendered consequences of the dismantling of state enterprises. Here, ‘‘redundancy’’ refers to any situation in which workers lost their jobs for reasons beyond their control, which includes instances in which workers’ ties to their workplace continue. The variety of forms of redundancy in China re?ects the transitional nature of its labor market institutions, as they evolve from guaranteed lifetime employment toward insecure labor contracts. As part of the social welfare system under socialism, state enterprises hired too many employees, but market reforms guided by the principle of ef?ciency have made these workers redundant. Such reforms are still evolving, gaining further momentum after China’s entry to the WTO, and they continue to generate redundancy. Studies of the economic reform period, even those drawing attention to women’s greater vulnerability to redundancy, have focused on the macrostructural features of this process. By contrast, adopting a qualitative model, my research proposes to add a fresh perspective to the study of social change, shifting employment patterns, and the status of women in China. Based on life-history interviews, I examine the micro-processes underpinning the outcome of economic restructuring, and through a genderbased analysis, I show how and why these working women were rendered vulnerable during the economic transformations. This trend is undermined by Chinese policy-makers and scholars’ tendency to emphasize economic reform as a rejection, by design, of everything Mao represented and as a break with the past. However, I question this disjuncture: rather than analyzing gender discrimination as something introduced by economic restructuring,2 I explore the continuities of gender inequalities represented in the life histories of redundant women workers. In particular, I identify the links between women’s prior employment status (more limited skills, limited social connections, and household responsibilities) and their likelihood of becoming redundant, their prospects for re-employment, and the types of jobs they get. I show that women’s unequal working experiences and social disadvantages in the pre-reform era shaped their greater vulnerability to redundancy during economic restructuring. This link is particularly evident in the experiences of older, redundant women workers from the Cultural Revolution generation, called the ‘‘unlucky generation’’ in China for having experienced famine in the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s – 70s, the one-child policy after 1979, and redundancies from the late 1980s. For these women, redundancy was yet one more sacri?ce demanded of their cohort in particular for the development of China, and these women are 126


unlikely to gain any bene?t from whatever advantages accrue from China’s economic integration into the global economy. Finally, research on redundancy found a positive relationship between the nature of social connections and success in the job search but has not focused on women through the lens of gender. By examining the lives of older women workers and highlighting their use of social connections in seeking reemployment, I also add a gendered perspective to existing studies of social connections and prospects for reemployment in China. GEN D ER, G LO BA LIZAT I ON , A N D ECON OM IC RESTRUCTURING IN CHINA Since the 1980s, accelerated globalization has affected national economies and many aspects of social, political, and cultural life (Lourdes Bener?a ? 2003) and has led to the intensi?cation of social inequalities and the marginalization of the poor and other groups (Diane Elson and Nilufer ¨ Cagatay 2000). Parallel to this process of globalization and trade liberal? ˇ ization, labor market deregulation has resulted in the profound reorganization of production and changes in employment conditions. In particular, employment instability has sharply increased, and unemployment affects more workers (Bener?a 2003). How women are affected in this process is ? varied and context-speci?c. Feminist economists have put forth two main arguments for analyzing the gendered impact of economic restructuring. Focusing on employment changes during a short-term recession, Jane Humphries (1988) tested the segmentation, buffer, and substitution hypotheses, suggesting that women workers’ experiences varied according to speci?c industries, occupations, and types of enterprises. According to the segmentation hypothesis, employment in manufacturing is more susceptible to layoffs, whereas services are relatively insulated from cyclical variation in output and employment. Thus, women’s concentration in services may shield them from redundancy (Humphries 1988). The buffer hypothesis suggests that women are especially vulnerable to cyclical unemployment and are shed disproportionately in the downswing and recruited intensively in the upswing (Humphries 1988). The substitution hypothesis indicates that recession opens up new opportunities for women workers and substitutes them for men within workforces (Humphries 1988). In contrast, Elson and Cagatay suggest that women are more likely to suffer the most under ? ˇ neoliberal economic restructuring as a result of three biases in macroeconomic policies: de?ationary bias resulting from government budget cuts, male breadwinner bias in wage employment, and commodi?cation bias.3 As a result of these biases women are more vulnerable to losing their jobs than men and usually have worse access than men to social safety nets (Elson and Cagatay 2000). ? ˇ 127


Studies of other countries have shown how women lost out during economic restructuring (Lourdes Bener?a and Shelley Feldman 1992; ? Bener?a 2003). Helen I. Safa and Peggy Antrobus (1992) showed that, ? during the economic crisis in the Caribbean (Jamaica and Dominican Republic), structural adjustment policies forced families to take on a greater share of the cost of survival as a result of cutbacks in social services, which in turn increased the burden on women, demonstrating the effects of the commodi?cation bias identi?ed by Elson and Cagatay (2000). ? ˇ Meanwhile, Safa and Antrobus (1992) found that export manufacturing showed a preference for women workers because they were cheaper to employ and had greater patience for the tedious assembly line work, consistent with Humphries’s substitution hypothesis (1988). Gender strati?cation also occurred in East Germany where women’s labor power was devalued and they were increasingly excluded from work, showing the male breadwinner bias (Elizabeth C. Rudd 2000). In the Czech Republic, Anna Pollert (2003) found that women particularly suffered in light industries, such as textiles, as a result of trade deregulation and competition, supporting Humphries’s buffer hypothesis (1988). In Nicaragua, Nan Wiegersma’s research (1994) suggested that women over the age of 35 had the greatest dif?culty ?nding jobs due to the closing down or privatization of garment and textile factories, showing an age differentiation in women’s employment. Pollert also found that transition in ?ve Central and Eastern European countries caused a recession and the ensuing increase in unemployment, poverty, and inequality was ‘‘both a class and a gendered process’’ (2003: 350). Research on China’s economic reforms also suggests that the cost of restructuring has fallen upon women disproportionately (Summer?eld 1994). In China, redundancies occur in the context of economic restructuring rather than a short-term recession. Adapting Humphries’s buffer and segmentation hypotheses (1988) to a longer process of relative decline in manufacturing and the rise in services with economic liberalization suggests that while women are disproportionately laid off from state manufacturing enterprises, their concentration in the growing service sectors may protect them from losing jobs in future downturns. In addition, in the course of restructuring, some factories are replacing male workers with young migrant women to cut down on costs (Fan Zhai and Zhi Wang 2002), which lends support to Humphries’s substitution hypothesis. The increasing importance of services in China is likely to favor some young women (Wang 2000). Women workers in state enterprises, however, are adversely affected by the three biases of China’s economic restructuring. In the early 1990s, the tight ?scal and monetary policies adopted by the government exacerbated the reduction in state subsidies and further worsened the ?nancial situation of state enterprises. The traditional breadwinner ideology – ‘‘men dominate the outside, women dominate the 128


inside’’ – has hardly changed despite the socialist rhetoric of women’s liberation; even in the late 1990s, employers often argued that women workers should be laid off because they could still depend ?nancially on their husbands. The budget cuts that were part of China’s overall reforms and obligation to the WTO resulted in the dismantling of welfare provision in the danwei. Employees, enterprises, and the state were all required to contribute to the social fund for pension and medical care, and employees had to purchase services that were previously free of charge. This all took place in the context of a booming economy that offered many other opportunities. One of the advantages of looking at China is that it demonstrates that similar gender biases occur in layoffs in an economy where reforms have had rapid success in high growth rates in contrast to those where reforms have resulted in recession or have been de?ationary. Recent studies found that many redundant urban workers in their 40s and 50s formed the same cohort of people whose education was ruined by the Cultural Revolution.4 Scholars argue that the generation caught up in the Cultural Revolution was the hardest hit by the economic restructuring because of their cohort-speci?c experiences (Li Peiling, Zhang Yi, and Zhao Yandong 2000; Eva P. W. Hung and Stephen W. K. Chiu 2003). As Hung and Chiu put it, their life course had been shaped by a series of state policies ‘‘in a largely detrimental and often unintended way’’ (2003: 207), and they felt that the state had betrayed them for the second time. For instance, many of them lost their educational opportunities as a result of the Cultural Revolution. Although they share hardships with other redundant workers, this generation feels particularly bitter because the reform era has emphasized educational quali?cations and competence that they lack. While the literature draws our attention to this generation’s experience, no study has investigated these workers’ accounts of their life histories. Beyond highlighting cohort speci?city, the literature pays little attention to why women workers disproportionately lost out in the economic reforms. Some scholars highlight Chinese men’s predicament (Li, Zhang, and Zhao 2000), arguing that, because of their traditional breadwinner role, redundancy was psychologically detrimental to men since their masculine pride was challenged by the loss of their jobs. Some male Chinese scholars even called on women workers to return home in order to relieve the unemployment problem (Sun Liping 1994; Lin Songle 1995). In contrast, I attempt to highlight the micro-processes brought out by the life narratives of older women redundant workers to consider the gendered consequences of China’s economic restructuring. By examining the social disadvantages these women experienced, I show the continuities of gender inequalities over their lifetimes. I identify the effects of age, gender, and social hierarchy, drawing attention, in particular, to the experiences of older and less-educated women. By examining their life after redundancy, 129


I also bring out new empirical evidence on gendered social networks in the job search. State enterprises and labor market deregulation In 1978, the Chinese government adopted an ‘‘opening-up’’ policy in hopes of achieving economic development after the misery of the Cultural Revolution. Among major developments was the promotion of different types of enterprise ownership. Before the reforms, state-owned enterprises were the major employers and providers of essential goods and services though a small number of collectively owned enterprises played a supplementary role (Louis Putterman and Xiao-yuan Dong [2000]; see Table 1 below). State enterprises, the danwei (work units), were more than economic entities: they guaranteed lifetime employment and were also residential and welfare communities providing workers with services such as housing and healthcare, in addition to wages and retirement pensions. There were three types of danwei: pro?t-making enterprises producing material commodities, nonpro?t institutions providing non-material services, and administrative institutions (Bian Yanjie 1994).5 As the reforms unfolded after 1986, the state-run, production-oriented enterprises faced serious competition from non-state enterprises because they still employed a substantial number of employees and bore the burden of welfare provision. Their economic performance began to deteriorate rapidly in the

Table 1 Employment in urban China, 1952 – 2002
State-owned Total Year 1952 1965 1970 1978 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2002 No. 15.8 37.4 47.9 74.5 80.2 89.9 103.5 109.6 78.8 69.2 % 98.8 75.3 77.1 78.4 76.7 72.8 73.6 73.5 69.9 65.6 No. of women – – – 21.3 24.7 29.1 35.4 39.6 29.5 26.2 Collectively owned Total No. 0.2 12.3 14.2 20.5 24.3 33.2 35.5 30.8 14.5 10.7 % 1.2 24.7 22.9 21.6 23.3 26.9 25.2 20.6 12.9 10.1 No. of women – – – 10.2 12.3 15.7 16.7 13.7 6.1 4.4 Other ownership Total No. – – – – – 0.4 1.6 8.8 19.4 25.6 % – – – – – 0.3 1.2 5.9 17.2 24.3 No. of women – – – – – 0.2 0.8 4.2 8.5 10.9

Note: Number is shown in millions. The dashes for women between 1952 – 80 mean that information was not gathered. Source: Compiled from China Labour Statistical Yearbook (National Bureau of Statistics and Ministry of Labor and Social Security 1998) and the China Statistical Yearbook (National Bureau of Statistics 1999, 2002, 2003).



late 1980s. In the early 1990s, the tight ?scal and monetary policies adopted by the government further reduced state subsidies and worsened their ?nancial situation. When the leadership determined to accelerate China’s assimilation into the world economy, the restructuring of state enterprises became inevitable because as part of its pursuit of WTO membership China had to commit to remove trade barriers and reduce state subsidies, thereby leaving state enterprises subject to heightened market competition. The enterprise reforms in the 1980s mainly consisted of reorganization in order to enhance enterprises’ ef?ciency. In 1986, the State Council introduced a labor contract system that put all new recruits on ?xed-term (but renewable) contracts alongside an existing permanent labor force (Tan Shen 1993). The peak period of ‘‘optimal labor reorganization’’ was 1986 – 8. In this period, the State Council required that employers use assessments and examinations to identify workers with the best skills and transfer them to the most important posts. The total number of posts was reduced so some workers with poor skills or no skills became surplus labor. As a result, these workers were asked to stay home with reduced wages in order for enterprises to lower production costs (Ting Gong 2002). However, the state still subsidized urban enterprises so the number of people affected was small. But the pro?ts of state-run enterprises continued to decline; by 1992, two-thirds were operating in the red (Gong 2002). In 1992, at its Fourteenth Plenary Congress, the Communist Party formally decided to establish a socialist market economy, and, by endorsing layoffs or xiagang (literally ‘‘leaving the post’’), aimed at enabling state-run enterprises to compete more ef?ciently with non-state ones. But the scale of redundancy was relatively small since China adopted a gradual approach to restructuring; merger rather than bankruptcy was the solution for lossmaking ?rms. From 1994 onward, the government started a policy of restructuring small and medium state enterprises while protecting larger enterprises: bankruptcies, mergers, or leases applied to small and medium ?rms, but big ?rms were reorganized in strategic sectors (Ching Kwan Lee 2005). In 1995, the Labor Law formally required state enterprises to put all employees on contract, thereby ending the lifetime employment system that dominated the Maoist era. At its Fifteenth Plenary Congress in 1997, the Party con?rmed the decision to reform state-run enterprises by reducing employees and moving forward with aggressive restructuring. As a result, many unpro?table enterprises were shut down, and state enterprises were required to shift to modern forms of corporate governance (John Giles, Albert Park, and Fang Cai 2006). Progress in reforming China’s state enterprises was a litmus test for assessing the Chinese leadership’s willingness to seek membership in the WTO. The November 1999 agreement between Chinese and US authorities on terms for China’s WTO accession enforced a Chinese commitment to expose state enterprises to more fundamental market discipline and reform. China’s 131


2001 accession to the WTO further accelerated the state enterprise reforms. The Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) under WTO membership required China to substantially reduce subsidies to the state enterprise sector (Claustre Bajona and Tianshu Chu 2004). Consequently, bankruptcies and complete privatization took place in many state enterprises, and more state workers became vulnerable to unemployment. State enterprise reforms pushed by China’s integration into the world economy produced massive numbers of jobless workers. In the 1990s, the of?cial discourse used two terms to denote urban citizens without jobs. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (1999: 179), ‘‘unemployed’’ refers to an urban citizen who has no job but desires to be employed and has been registered at the local employment service agencies to apply for a job. Accordingly, unemployed persons include those young people who could not ?nd jobs after graduation. The second term, xiagang, was the of?cial term referring to workers who lost their jobs but still retained ties to their former enterprises. However, as I show below, beyond this of?cial recognition of just two categories of jobless workers, state enterprises adopted a variety of measures to get rid of their employees. So I use redundancy to include any scenario in which urban workers lost their jobs because of restructuring – including, but not limited to, the situation of xiagang – but excluding urban youth who failed to ?nd jobs after college. Redundancy measures have taken various forms, represented by numerous terms used nationally and regionally, but most redundant workers worked in industrial enterprises. Below is a list of forms of redundancy in chronological order (according to when they came into being). (1) Extended maternity leave. This practice extended the statutory maternity leave period of ?fty-six days inde?nitely. This measure speci?cally aimed at making women redundant from the late 1980s and early 1990s. (2) Internal or in-house retirees (neitui). Beginning in 1992, older redundant workers who would reach their legal retirement age within ?ve to ten years retain a connection with their enterprise and receive a proportion of their former wage (depending on the industry and ?nancial situation of the enterprise).6 However, they receive no bonus or wage increase until they became eligible for a state pension. (3) Laid-off workers (xiagang). This includes (a) those who are called in on an as needed basis – daigang (literally ‘‘waiting for post’’); (b) unpaid leave of workers who are no longer working in the enterprise but still remain af?liated with their enterprises, referred to by various names such as tingxin liuzhi (‘‘stopping pay but preserving positions’’) and liangbuzhao (literally ‘‘neither party looks 132


for the other’’) (Dorothy J. Solinger 2001: 680); and (c) workers who entered a re-employment service center in 1998 – 2001,7 if they failed to ?nd work within the period, they could be registered as ‘‘unemployed’’ and become entitled to state unemployment bene?ts for two years. Laid-off workers in categories (a) and (c) are supposed to receive the basic livelihood allowance, but this varies according to the pro?tability of individual enterprises. This practice has been common since the mid-1990s. (4) Bought-out workers (mai duan gong ling). These workers are paid a lump sum (which varies by industry and enterprise), at which point they cease to have any formal connection with their danwei and have to settle their own pension arrangements (Hung and Chiu 2003). This is a recent practice, having been in effect only since 1997; ‘‘buy-outs’’ (along with internal retirees) are of?cially excluded from xiagang (laid-off) and thus, omitted from of?cial layoff statistics. In 1997 of?cial statistics showed a steady rise in the numbers of registered unemployed workers but a much sharper increase in the numbers of laidoff workers (xiagang), whose ties to their former workplaces were not completely severed (Table 2). However, the state statistics do not include

Table 2 Of?cial statistics of unemployed and laid-off workers (xiagang) in urban China 1992 – 2002 (in millions)
Registered unemployed workers Year 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total 3.6 4.2 4.7 5.1 5.5 5.7 5.7 5.8 6.0 6.8 7.7 Women – – – – – – 3.0 2.5 3.2 3.0 3.2 Total c. 2.5 3.0 3.6 5.6 8.9 13.2 c. 8.9 c. 9.0 9.1 7.4 6.2 Laid-off workers Women – – – – – – – – – 3.2 2.8

Note: The c that precedes some of these numbers indicates that the ?gure is an estimate. The dashes for women here mean that statistics were not gathered in these years. The two categories (registered unemployed workers and xiagang workers) are mutually exclusive, and one becomes registered unemployed after their xiagang status ends (and also after one’s status in any of the other redundancy categories ends). Source: Data derived from Zhang (1999: 86, Table 18) and China Labor Statistics Yearbook (National Bureau of Statistics and Ministry of Labor and Social Security 2000, 2003).



workers from the other three redundant categories shown above, so the number of redundant workers has always been a controversial issue (see Solinger 2001). Even within the reported category of laid-off workers (xiagang), there are still inconsistencies. For example, the State Statistical Bureau gave the number of laid-off workers at the end of 1997 as 12 million in its online report but 14.35 million in the China Labour Statistical Yearbook (cited in Yang Guang 1999: 12). These totals also differ from the of?cial ?gures reported in Table 2 derived from Zhang (1999: 86, Table 18). Researchers outside China were not able to clarify such inconsistencies, but they ‘‘uniformly agree that of?cial statistics . . . are far from the mark and are decidedly too low’’ (Solinger 2001: 672). Three major causes for this massive redundancy have been posited (Edward X. Gu 1999; Song 2003). First, the ‘‘institutional unemployment’’ was generated by China’s transformation from a socialist planned economy to a market economy (Gu 1999). In the planned economy, China attempted to maximize urban employment so state enterprises absorbed more laborers than they needed, which resulted in ‘‘hidden unemployment’’ (Gu 1999). In the market economy, unemployment had to be made open in order to reduce the ?nancial burden and to enhance the ef?ciency of state enterprises. Second, China has experienced structural changes and unemployment since the 1980s (Song 2003). Song documents the decline of employment shares in agricultural and manufacturing sectors and suggests that with economic structural changes people lost their jobs in one sector and had to ?nd jobs in new rising sectors such as services. However, as I show in this paper, many redundant workers – older women, in particular – lost their jobs from inef?cient enterprises without any prospect of being rehired in the growing sectors. Third, domestic enterprises suffered from the growing competition of imports resulting from integration into the global economy (Zhai and Wang 2002; Solinger 2003). Well before its formal accession to the WTO, China had to take concrete steps to demonstrate its commitment to reducing or eliminating subsidies to state-owned enterprises and trade barriers. For example, China lowered its tariffs on imported foreign goods beginning in the late 1980s in preparation for joining the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (Dorothy J. Solinger 2006). In December 1995, China decided to cut tariffs by a further 30 percent in order to gain US support for its WTO application. In the face of strong competition from imports and the direct in?uence of the global market, traditional textiles and the clothing industry were adversely affected in the late 1990s, which resulted in closures and mergers with many workers losing their jobs (Solinger 2003). Because of the upsurge in joblessness, the state government adopted various measures. For example, re-employment service centers were set up 134


as part of the Re-employment Project launched in 1995 and included various active labor market policies to provide job-replacement and jobtraining with cooperative efforts from enterprises and governments at different levels (Edward X. Gu 2000). Of?cially, ‘‘three guarantees’’ were promised to counter urban poverty: a basic livelihood allowance issued to workers who were quali?ed as ‘‘laid-off’’;8 unemployment insurance to those deemed ‘‘unemployed,’’ including those whose ?rms had disappeared completely either by bankruptcy or merger; and a minimum cost of living guarantee set by local governments for urban residents whose income fell below that standard (Dorothy J. Solinger 2002). However, due to ?nancial dif?culty, some enterprises could not afford to pay their share to the social fund, and scholars pointed out the ineffectiveness of these programs and called for an installation of a genuine social security system in China (Sarah Cook 2002; Solinger 2002, 2003). In 2004 responsibility for supporting newly laid-off workers was legally transferred from the danwei to the state (Information Of?ce of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China 2004). Therefore, local governments become the key actors in implementing national policies. Lee (2005) suggests that this resulted in uneven protection for workers, depending on the economic structure of the province and the integrity and competence of local of?cials. Men and women were positioned differently in relation to these market transformations, and various Chinese studies have shown that women were disproportionately affected. A 1987 survey by the national trade union in eleven provinces found that women accounted for 64 percent of ‘‘excess workers’’ (which is another term used by the employers for redundant workers) in 660 enterprises (Tamara Jacka 1990). In the early round of redundancies, many excess workers were transferred to the auxiliary or service sectors of their danwei (Jacka 1990; Meng Xianfan 1995). However, beginning in 1992, women were heavily hit by extended maternity leave and internal retirement policies (Tan 1993). Extended maternity leave, in particular, was a common means of making women redundant in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Women received a basic wage during the statutory leave period but, as an example of the male breadwinner bias, were unpaid or partially paid in the extended period, which made them dependent on their husbands. The ownership of rights in employment is constructed around a full-time, life-long participation in the workforce and excludes women whose participation does not typically ?t this norm. In 1993, a seven-province survey carried out by the national trade union found that women made up 60 percent of workers who lost their jobs (Meng 1995). Despite the paucity of gender data in of?cial statistics (Table 2), recent studies have found that being female, being middle-aged, having a low educational level, and working in the manufacturing sectors increased the chance of losing one’s job (Li Qiang, Hu Junsheng, and Hong Dayong 2001; Peter Saunders and 135


Xiaoyuan Shang 2001; Simon Appleton, John Knight, Lina Song, and Qingjie Xia 2002; Xiao-yuan Dong and Louis Putterman 2002), and it is generally accepted that nearly 60 percent of xiagang workers in the late 1990s were women (Yang 1999; Wu Zhaohua 2001). This macro picture has thus borne out the conclusion of Elson and Cagatay (2000) ? ˇ that women are more likely to be the losers during economic liberalization. Although there is an expectation that China’s membership in the WTO will increase women’s employment by re-boosting textiles and clothing sectors, whether redundant women workers will bene?t is uncertain.

G EN D E R I N E Q U A L I T I ES I N T H E W O R K P L A C E Redundant women workers in Nanjing: context and method of study Most studies have recognized that the Cultural Revolution generation was the hardest hit by economic restructuring, but they have provided at best only a limited gender analysis (Richard H. Price and Fang Liluo 2002; Hung and Chiu 2003). Hence, I took a gendered and historically located approach to investigate female redundancy and, instead of using quantitative methods, collected life histories of older women workers in Nanjing in 2003 to investigate the factors that had shaped their lives and to explore their understandings of the processes and events in which they had been involved. Because of the sensitivity of the topic and the dif?culty of gaining access to workers through of?cial channels, I resorted to informal networking and snowballing strategies to recruit participants (Jieyu Liu 2006). I interviewed twenty-seven redundant women workers, ?ve women who had survived or witnessed the economic restructuring but were not made redundant, and one of?cial, and I organized a focus group with another three redundant women workers. Their ages ranged from 37 to 59 years; twenty of the redundant workers were of the Cultural Revolution generation; all were or had been married; and almost half had spent over twenty years in their danwei.9 The industries in which they formerly worked roughly corresponded with Nanjing’s industrial structure. Nanjing is an important industrial base in East China with petrochemicals, electronics, and car manufacturing as its mainstay industries, and machine manufacturing, textiles, and metallurgy as its local feature industries. It contributes about one percent of the national gross industrial production (Liu Houjun, Zeng Xiangdong, and Zhang Erzheng 2002). The large-scale layoffs occurred mostly in Central-West China, old industrial base areas, and areas with relatively rapid market development (Zhang 1999; Xiao-yuan Dong 2003). Located near Shanghai, Nanjing has experienced the market development that has subjected traditional industries more directly to the dynamics of global economic demands. 136


According to previous surveys, women workers in Nanjing experienced redundancy types similar to their national counterparts. They were asked to leave their posts mainly through internal retirement, daigang (‘‘waiting for the post’’), or extended maternity leave (Wang Xiuzhi 1993). In 1997, women over 35 accounted for 71 percent of redundant female workers in Nanjing (Zhu Qinghong 1999). Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province, which is known for its strong textile industries that employ many women workers. Because most redundant women workers come from the machinery and textiles industries nationwide (Zhang 1999), my case study has wider relevance for the situation of redundant women workers in China. Gender segregation at work Research has postulated that a link exists between the disproportionate female redundancy in the current reform era and gender inequalities in the socialist planned economy (e.g., Wang 2000; Ping Ping 2002), and my study of economic and non-economic factors in the workplace supports this argument. Women respondents were disadvantaged by gendered working practices and cultural assumptions and were also subjected to greater surveillance of their behavior at and outside work than men. The danwei system perpetuated gender inequality despite the socialist rhetoric of equality. During the pre-reform era, the Chinese labor market was characterized by horizontal and vertical segregation,10 and my interviews demonstrated that both dimensions of segregation were present in the Chinese workplace. Horizontal segregation at the industrial and workplace levels was based on assumptions of ‘‘natural’’ differences between women and men, manifested through the division of work into ‘‘heavy’’ and ‘‘light’’ industry. This pattern continued as state enterprise reforms evolved. According to the 1990 census, women comprised 70 percent of workers in light industries (leather-making, textiles, and clothing) but less than 20 percent in heavy industries (construction and metal processing) (Liu Dezhong and Niu Bianxiu 2000). All of my informants who had worked in light industries reported that there were far more women in their factories, whereas those who had worked in heavy industries reported the opposite. Mother Murong (aged 40), who had worked in a lamp-making factory reported, ‘‘Most women were assemblers. Men often work downstairs because it was really heavy work and required physical strength – such as punching.’’ Although the underlying assumption was that women’s ‘‘weak’’ physique was best suited to ‘‘light’’ work, without a clear de?nition of ‘‘heavy’’ or ‘‘light’’ the judgment of work allocation was arbitrary. Men were more often allocated to work associated with ‘‘skills,’’ and in light industries, where most women worked, men were also more connected with 137


technical knowledge. Mother Xiu (aged 47) had been working in the technical sector of a wool-knitting factory where men ‘‘designed the pattern, that is, the ?ower or animal image on the clothes. We were responsible for knitting the clothes. . . They [men] were mainly drawing patterns because women were worse at drawing anyway.’’ In commercial sectors such as retailing, Mother Jun, reported that few men worked as shop assistants: ‘‘People say if men stand behind counters, they would become shorter.’’11 These examples bear out Anne Philips and Barbara Taylor’s conclusion that ‘‘Skill de?nitions are saturated with sexual bias. The work of women is often deemed inferior simply because it is women who do it’’ (1980: 79). As for vertical segregation, although women and men were entitled to equal chances of promotion under the Chinese Constitution, in reality men were always prioritized for upward mobility (Zheng Xiaoying 1995). Similar to the national pattern reported by the Research Institute of All-China Women’s Federation, Department of Social Science and Technology Statistics, and the State Statistical Bureau (1998: 434), my interviewees were mostly placed lower in the danwei hierarchy and, as workers, institutionally segregated from higher-ranked cadres, the superiors or supervisors usually associated with the Communist Party. Mid-level cadres at or beyond the section and workshop level were mostly men; the few women who became mid-level cadres mostly held symbolic posts with little real power. Admission into the Party was carried out at the workplace (Bian 1994). My interviewees talked about membership as an economic resource, similar to other awards and chances of promotion, and said that most members were men. A few women had tried to join, mostly without success.12 Job segregation by sex in capitalist economies is the major source of wage inequalities between men and women (Heidi Hartmann 1976). By contrast, and consistent with China’s socialist rhetoric of promoting gender equality, before the large-scale reform, gender earnings inequality was relatively low, with female wages placed around 80 percent of male earnings (Martin K. Whyte 1984). However, studies based on national representative data (1988 – 94) found that although overt wage discrimination for men and women performing similar work was constrained, the main source of wage inequality was the concentration of women workers in low-paying sectors of China’s economy (Margaret Maurer-Fazio, Thomas G. Rawski, and Wei Zhang 1999). In my study, most interviewees recalled the state principle of ‘‘equal pay for equal work’’ (tong gong tong chou), but they were aware of the difference between wages in different sectors – ‘‘light’’ industries, such as textiles, found much lower pay than ‘‘heavy’’ industries, such as machinery. So sex and ‘‘strength’’ acted as the criteria of work remuneration. As the economic reforms moved forward, the gap in earnings between women and men seemed to increase. Maurer-Fazio, Rawski, and Zhang (1999) found 138


that the ratio of women’s wages to men’s declined every year from 1988 to 1994. They also found that foreign-owned and private enterprises – the newly developed types of ownership in the reform – held the largest gender wage gap. Xiao-yuan Dong, Jianchun Yang, Fenglian Du, and Sai Ding (2005) found that between 1995 and 2003 the gender wage gap for both state and non-state ?rms combined rose from 15.6 to 23.0 percent and that women faced greater degrees of wage discrimination in the postrestructuring period. One of the long-term consequences is that women collect less unemployment bene?t and pension income than men. Women’s limited social connections (guanxi) Before the reforms, women’s poor representation among Communist Party members and the cadres with real power largely excluded them from power and denied access to resources in the work unit. As I highlight, workplace inequalities, in turn, limited women’s use of social connections, or guanxi, and contributed to gender inequalities in re-employment prospects. In China in the 1980s and 1990s, there was an increase in reliance on connections to get promoted or to get a good job. ‘‘[C]onnections (guanxi), not ability, were the major way to get promoted, get a good job, assignment, and so forth’’ (Andrew G. Walder 1986: 176). Some scholars have equated guanxi to ‘‘social capital’’ in western society (see Nan Lin 2001).13 Bian found that the purpose of using connections was ‘‘to ?nd someone who has the power or in?uence to break through the bureaucratic control of opportunities’’ (1994: 98). My interviewees’ accounts suggest that as women cultivated connections with men in order to realize a particular goal, this also contributed to reinforcing their subordination. The ?nal object of guanxi could be reached directly or indirectly through intermediaries (Bian 1994). My interviewees mainly used three channels. First, women could capitalize on the connections of their natal family members, mostly through their father. If a woman failed to be born with a silver spoon in her mouth, her second chance for access to powerful connections was marriage. Lisa Rofel (1999) notes in her ethnographic study of a silk factory that women usually married up; my interviewees also reported this: ‘‘At that time, many women in the shop wanted to marry some powerful man. As soon as you married him, he would have the say to transfer you away from the shop ?oor’’ (Mother Jing, aged 50). Third, a woman who had established a good relationship with her immediate leader as a result of good biaoxian (literally ‘‘performance’’),14 might be able to translate it into connections. However, the power of connections accessed this way was limited, subject to change, and likely to wane if the leader was transferred out of the danwei. Furthermore, surveillance of women’s social relationships and sexuality constrained this mode of ?nding connections. Women had to be able to withstand gossip about using their ‘‘immoral’’ 139


behavior to gain favors. Those who became leaders were similarly rumored to have slept with male leaders and were described as ‘‘able women, unlike ordinary women’’ by my interviewees. By asking the women with whom they mainly socialized during the Spring Festival, I found that the friends of women cadres were mostly leaders while workers associated with other workers; the differential scope and power of their social networks had implications for their chances of ?nding re-employment (see the section entitled ‘‘Life post-redundancy’’ later in this paper). My ?ndings accord with Mayfair Mei-Hui Yang’s (1994) conclusion that working-class women are likely to be more circumscribed than men in their daily lives to small circles of acquaintances on the job and at home and that women cadres and intellectuals are more involved in connections with more powerful individuals than workers. After accessing guanxi, what was it used for? Apart from using guanxi to ?nd their ?rst job, women interviewees reported some more speci?c applications. Unlike their male counterparts who used connections for upward mobility (Bian 1994), when women workers changed jobs, many of them took new jobs at the same wage level and some were even transferred to menial or degrading jobs. Their ultimate goals were mainly to avoid doing shift work and to cope with the demands of both work and family duties more smoothly. Mother Tang (aged 46), for example, transferred to a factory where her father-in-law was chief secretary of the Party committee: ‘‘In 1986, I had no choice but to ask to be transferred to work here. It was purely because my daughter would go to school soon and no one else was available to look after her.’’ In sum, women were allocated to the danwei by the state and provided with work; but their work was a job rather than a career, they had very restricted access to power and resources due to horizontal and vertical segregation, suffered various forms of gendered discrimination, and were disadvantaged in their work development. As a result, women’s unequal working experiences and imputed or actual lack of ‘‘skills’’ before the economic reforms shaped their greater vulnerability to redundancy in economic restructuring.

EX P ER I EN C ES A ND PE RC EP TIO NS O F R ED U ND A N CY Experiences of redundancy Beginning in 1986 women faced dif?culties securing jobs. But their hardship increased as economic reforms advanced, causing the scale of redundancy to worsen and the terms under which workers were made redundant to change over time, offering the workers less protection and amounting to varied practices and treatment between danwei. Twenty-seven interviewees were made redundant (eighteen were internally retired,15 140


six laid off, and three bought out, see Table 3); two had also previously experienced a one-year period of extended maternity leave on threequarters pay. Of the rest, one was selected to be laid off at the age of 42 but managed to stay on, three had retired in due time, one (a former factory leader) had resigned to start her own company, and one was a Women’s Federation of?cer. Their remuneration varied considerably, depending on the type of danwei and industry, the ?nancial state of the individual enterprise, and mode of redundancy (Table 3). One common thing among respondents was that they all were stripped of the bonuses attached to the basic wage,16 even as the basic wage stagnated and bonuses became a key part of workers’ income during the reforms. Bonuses also formed a key part of wage disparity for those who were made redundant because they were deprived of any bonuses even when they were kept on the state enterprise’s payroll. Monthly payments given to internal retirees varied widely across different industries (?135 – ?650), whereas the remuneration for laid-off workers was fairly similar (?190 – ?300). As shown in Table 3, with a few exceptions the remuneration for internal retirees was actually well below the average monthly income of Nanjing citizens: these women were mostly paid between ?135 and ?650, which represented about 10 percent to 47 percent of the average monthly income for 2002.17 In particular, textile internal retirees who retired in the early 1990s found ten years later that they received only about one-tenth of the average monthly income. With the exception of the chemical industry, buy-outs were treated fairly equally: women who worked in machine manufacturing and ‘‘light’’ industries, including textile and clothing reported that buy-outs received from ?400 to ?650 per year of service in a lump sum payment that is not directly comparable with the remuneration for the other two forms of redundancy. In Nanjing, as one of the ‘‘three guarantees,’’ a minimum living standard allowance of ?248 per month, was issued to workers whose income was less than this amount, but none of the women interviewed had applied for this bene?t. They commented that they would not make a fuss by going through the complicated application which involved regular checking up on their income by issuing of?cers who would talk with their neighbors. This program was also ineffective among laid-off workers in the cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan (Joe C. B. Leung and Hilda S. W. Wong 1999; Solinger 2002). Rising healthcare costs worsened the ?nancial situation of the women I interviewed. Redundant workers were supposed to receive partial reimbursement of medical expenses from their former danwei but because many enterprises ran at a loss or were near closure, this was often unavailable. The medical security reform that could help healthcare costs started in 2001 in Nanjing but the number of enterprises included (forty-six) was still small (Gu Zhaonong 2000). Mother Li commented that 141

Table 3 Financial remuneration received by women according to types of work unit and industry, forms of redundancy, and year of redundancy
Internal retirement N 2 1 1 1993 4 5 400 2001 2 2,500 2001 2002 5 3 1997 2000 1 6 190 1998 3 3 27 1 1 1b 1 1 350 190 0 350 1996 1999 1995 1997 1,800 160 1 1 1,200 Monthly wage (yuan) Year N Monthly wage (yuan) Year N Laid-off Buy-out Amount per year of servicea (yuan) Year Total 3 400 1998 4

Type of work unit


Nonpro?t units (shiye)

Pro?t-making units (qiye)


1996 1997 2003 1992 135

1994 1992 2002 1993 2001 2003 1998 2000 200 200 600 300 400 2,000 800 900 600 400 600 400 650 1 1 1 1 1 1c 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 18

Machine manufacturing Other ‘‘light’’ industries





Notes: aThe lump sum, one-time payment for buy-outs is calculated by multiplying the amount per year of service by years of service. The remuneration for buy-outs is not directly comparable to the payments for other forms of redundancy. bThis woman was laid off as ‘‘liangbuzhao’’ (‘‘neither party looks for each other’’). cThis woman’s factory was among the top ten pro?t-making enterprises in Nanjing.


a few of her former colleagues had committed suicide rather than go to the hospital when they found out that they had a very serious illness. Hence, the most common wish among my interviewees was not to fall ill. Redundant workers were strati?ed depending upon the nature of their danwei, speci?c industries, ?nances of individual enterprise, and their prior working conditions (Table 3). Zhang (1999: 89) found in a three-year national investigation that the vast majority (86.5 percent) came from the pro?t-making enterprises, 13.2 percent from the nonpro?t institutions, and 0.3 percent from the administrative institutions. Similarly, I found that those from the pro?t-making enterprises were the hardest hit. Most interviewees had previously worked in pro?t-making enterprises and did poorly compared to those who were from nonpro?t institutions. Those formerly in nonpro?t institutions received the most lucrative bene?ts; and none of the redundant interviewees worked in administrative institutions (Table 3). The difference between workers and cadres continued after redundancy. Six of the twenty-seven women interviewed were cadres, but only one was a mid-level cadre and had managed to enter the pension scheme as a retiree. Because women faced dif?culties in being promoted to mid-level cadres prior to reforms, their chances of being made redundant increased. Similarly, Zhao Yandong found that 7 percent of 621 laid-off workers in Wuhan had once been cadres and only 2 percent of them were mid-level cadres (2001: 22). In a survey of four cities Li, Zhang, and Zhao (2000) also found that workers were far more likely to be made redundant than mid-level cadres. Finally, divisions existed among enterprises depending on the industrial sector. The textile factories in Nanjing were among the ?rst enterprises in the city to be heavily hit. As Solinger put it, ‘‘among textile workers, supposedly members of a winning industrial sector, millions of mill hands have already been let go with the international destruction of over 9 million out-of-date spindles by the end of 1999’’ (2003: 78 – 9). Most of the factories in which my interviewees had worked had been closed. Ten of the twentyseven interviewees were made redundant by factory closures. Textile workers also suffered the greatest ?nancial loss; they were made redundant earlier as internal retirees, received the lowest remuneration, and bene?ted least from the social protection schemes that were installed several years after they had lost their jobs. By contrast, chemical industries were relatively pro?table in Nanjing; although several factories were required to merge together at the call of the state enterprises reforms, redundant chemical workers were much better remunerated (Table 3). An interesting practice was found in commerce, a heavily feminized sector where women accounted for over 80 percent of workers in the 1990s. Consistent with the segmentation hypothesis, the sector might afford women workers relative protection as it is relatively insulated from cyclical variation in output and employment (Humphries 1988). Indeed, in 1992 the Nanjing 143


Women’s Federation praised this sector for having a large number of female workers but no redundancies. By the end of the 1990s, however, the commerce sector introduced a redundancy scheme that targeted older workers (mostly women). Perceptions of redundancy How did the women perceive this big event in their lives? Here, I have followed Hung and Chiu (2003) and divided them into birth cohorts. Cohort 1 consisted of three women born between 1944 – 7; Cohort 2, the Cultural Revolution generation, eighteen women born between 1948 – 57; and Cohort 3, six women born between 1958 – 66. Like Hung and Chiu before me, I discovered that Cohort 2 women interpreted redundancy in generational terms. My respondents echoed Hung and Chiu’s ?nding that ‘‘xiagang workers from this lost generation were acutely aware of how their misfortunes were linked to their cohort-speci?c experiences’’ (2003: 211). As Mother Zheng (aged 51) put it, ‘‘Our generation is totally wasted.’’ Similarly, Mother Li (aged 54) commented: The life of our generation was really tough. When we were schoolchildren, everything was messed up by the Cultural Revolution. We learned nothing at all. Then when we were allocated a job at the work unit, how were we to know that the factory would run down in twenty years time? Our generation is so unlucky! Despite their grievances, Cohort 2 took redundancy as a matter of course: ‘‘our whole generation is unlucky’’ and commonly reported sentiments similar to Hung and Chiu’s interviewees who said that they were ‘‘just in time to run into all these (gan shang le)’’ and were a generation ‘‘full of misfortunes’’ (2003: 232). The oldest cohort, Cohort 1, who were near formal retirement age and had not suffered in the same way from the Cultural Revolution, interpreted their redundancy more at a societal level, accepting it as an inevitable concomitant of the economic reforms, as a change of era, ‘‘a social trend that is beyond control of ordinary people’’(Mother Ye, aged 56). Women in the youngest cohort,18 Cohort 3, however, interpreted this event more on an individual level, directing their anger at the factories. Mother Bi (aged 40) said, ‘‘Like us, . . .who would take pity on you? The society wouldn’t pay attention to you. The factory already kicked you out. You had to go ?nd a way on your own.’’ However, all the women pointed out that the mismanagement of former factory leaders should be blamed for the poor performance of the enterprises, a view that Gu (1999) also found. They reported that their factory-level leaders did not suffer like ordinary workers: they were transferred to other factories or government sectors. Thus, while making sense of their redundancy in their own terms, the different cohorts were 144


well aware of the inequalities and unfairness in the market reform, which they accepted as another social event in their lives that they could do little about.19 L I F E P O S T - R E D U ND A N C Y Being made redundant deprived these women of the welfare services of the danwei. Fortunately, they were the bene?ciaries of support from their families, though most of that was limited to non-material forms. They also received emotional support from other women who had been made redundant, some of whom were friends from their former workplaces and others, mainly neighbors in their husband’s danwei,20 with whom they had become acquainted as a result of their common experience of redundancy. Such companionship did not alter their circumstances, but it helped ease the loss deriving from unemployment.21 Analysis of the process and outcome of women’s searches for re-employment showed that only one had entered the re-employment service center; the rest had drawn on their own resources which, particularly for the poor and unskilled women workers, were their social contacts (other women) and those of their husbands and relatives. Social capital or guanxi is vital to the process of ?nding work (Li, Hu, and Hong 2001; Zhao Yandong 2002). A survey of laid-off workers (xiagang) from four cities in 1997 found that connections had positive effects upon the chances of getting re-employed (Li, Zhang, and Zhao 2000: 96 – 7). Here, I draw upon concepts from Zhao’s (2001, 2002) survey-based study of the social capital of 621 laid-off workers in Wuhan and con?ne my discussion to social capital at a micro level. He found that generally ‘‘laidoff workers have a smaller amount of possessed social capital than the population in general’’ (Zhao 2002: 567) and that laid-off workers in Wuhan mainly used informal methods and got substantial help (in?uence) from their contacts to ?nd new employment. However, he paid little attention to the gender dimension and also focused only on the individual’s connections. I found that women might draw upon their husband’s connections, and unlike Zhao’s informants, seldom had a direct connection with the person who played the most important role in ?nding jobs. Possessed social capital Zhao explored the effects of ‘‘possessed social capital’’ and ‘‘the social capital actually used in re-employment’’ (2002: 556). To measure possessed social capital, I asked twenty-four redundant workers (excluding three from the focus group and including the eighteen women from the Cultural Revolution cohort) questions similar to Zhao’s: ‘‘to how many relatives, friends, and acquaintances did you ‘pay a new year’s call’ [bainian] during 145


the Spring Festival?’’ and ‘‘what were those people’s jobs or danwei?’’ I then assessed the network size (number of members), network density (proportion of relatives among members), and embedded network resources (such as occupations of members) of these women. Their network size (average number: eleven; range ?ve to ?fteen) was smaller than the average network size (twenty-one) in Zhao’s sample (2002: 562) and that of Chinese urban citizens in general (thirty-one) (Bian Yanjie and Li Yu 2001 in Zhao 2002: 563). Most contacts were relatives and friends, and their network density (73 percent) was much higher than that of Zhao’s informants (49.44 percent) or of citizens in general (28.36 percent) (Zhao 2002: 563). The women in my study possessed poorer connections in comparison with the respondents to similar studies (for example, Li, Zhang, and Zhao 2000; Zhao 2002),22 which also re?ect their limited connections in the danwei. Most had relatives who were manual workers, some of whom were also redundant. Their friends were former colleagues and/or neighbors from their own or their husbands’ danwei or from school days and were also mostly manual workers. By contrast, one woman midlevel cadre and one professional possessed richer connections, since most of their contacts were professional people and leaders. Although their network size and network density differed little from those of the other women, I suggest that their embedded network resources produced their better jobs. Social capital actually used in re-employment By asking respondents about the methods they used to ?nd jobs, the kinds of resources they gained from their personal network, and the characteristics of the contact whom they considered ‘‘played the most important role,’’ I examined how they actually used connections in ?nding their new jobs. Most (seventeen) found their ?rst job by informal methods. Only one found her ?rst job through a formal method by reading newspaper advertisements; six went for self-employment, of whom four became street vendors; and two did some piecework at home. Table 4 shows the characteristics of the most important contact involved in introducing the ?rst job in relation to type of work. I found three types of connections and the types of jobs they led to. First, there is a difference between women using their own social connections and their husband’s social connections in ?nding a job. Women who sought jobs through their husband’s connections, with whom they hardly had any relationship, were more likely to be full-time and well paid. This distinction explains why women workers tend to marry up to cadres or professionals who possess richer and wider social connections (Rofel 1999). Women can draw on their husband’s social connections; their husbands may also independently use their social contacts to ?nd work for their wives. 146


Table 4 The characteristics of the core contact in ?rst job search by informal methods (seventeen)
Contact Husband’s friend or colleague Former workmate Former work contact Relative Schoolmate Neighbor Status of contact Managerial/ professional Manual Professional administrative Professional; manual Professional Manual Sex of contact Male Female Male Female Male Male Female Type of job found Various full-time jobs (shop assistant, accountant, etc.). Cleaning, cooking, caring, selling (part-time) Accountant (full-time) Consultant (full-time) Selling insurance (part-time) Cooking (part-time) Accountancy (full-time) Cleaning (part-time) N of women 5 6 2 2 1 1

Thus, as Xu Yanli and Tan Lin (2002) argue, marriage is a certain form of social capital for Chinese women. Second, there is a relationship between the work status of contacts (manual or non-manual) and the types of jobs they led to. Eight women had contacts who were only manual workers with no post or rank, consistent with Zhao’s (2002) ?ndings. Those jobs introduced by manualworker contacts were mostly cleaning, baby-sitting, and cooking meals for families or companies. This also supports Jin Yihong’s (2000) suggestion that laid-off women workers comprised a substantial group within the irregular labor market; most women in her national study were employed in vending, laundry services, or baby-sitting. By contrast, in my study, the mid-level cadre and one professional found full-time and stable jobs through the introduction of their social contacts, who were themselves professionals. My data indicate that the higher the rank of the contact, the better the jobs that could be obtained; hence, the power of contacts directly affected the quality of accessible jobs. Here I want to highlight that interviewees’ prior social status was closely related to the work status of their contacts. Manual workers were mostly associated with manual workers while mid-level cadres and professionals had more chances to be acquainted with professional and managerial staff. For example, the cadre and the professional’s prior status advantage was maintained in the job search: Mother Zhou, the director of her former factory’s trade union, was asked by the municipal trade union leader whom she already knew to work for them as a full-time consultant after she retired. Mother Fei, a senior accountant in her former company, was working full-time for a private trade company to which she had been introduced by her neighbor, the director of an 147


accounting agency. Their newly introduced jobs also offered the potential of gaining additional high quality social connections from which they might bene?t in the future. But women manual workers with poor social connections were trapped in a vicious circle of low-paid, unskilled, parttime work providing only further poor social connections. Former cadres were able to maintain their social positions, but the workers were vulnerable to downward mobility. Third, the gender of the social contacts also affected the types of jobs they led to. Women’s social networks were mostly made up of women, consonant with gender segregation in the workplace, as is shown in other studies (e.g., Irina Tartakovskaya and Sarah Ashwin 2004). However, the gender-speci?c network did them no favors. Their lower position in the labor market affected the connections they could make for their contacts. As Table 4 shows, jobs secured through women contacts were like the irregular kinds of work mentioned by Jin (2000). By contrast, the job connections made through male contacts were more likely to be full-time. Based on a 1998 survey in eighteen Chinese cities, Lin found that men held a substantial advantage over women in respect to social capital (2001: 109). Hence, due to poorer social capital held by women, gender discrimination had been reproduced in job searches because of these gender-speci?c networks. Constraints Gendered networking in job searches is not the only mechanism limiting the scope of jobs available for women and reproducing sex segregation in the labor market (Tartakovskaya and Ashwin 2004); indeed, my interviewees described other hindrances to ?nding work. Familial demands created hurdles because being redundant reinforced women’s domestic roles.23 They not only had to look after their own family, but they were also regarded as an unpaid reserve labor force by the wider family circle, which justi?ed demands being made of them by their own and their husband’s kin, even to the extent of obliging them to give up a hard-won job. Age also seemed to limit the types of work open to them, though women near 40 years old sometimes found their way around discriminatory practices. For example, after Mother Ding was ?rst laid off at 36, she became a product promoter in a department store, but a few years later, because of a crisis, all promoters over 40 were ?red. Through a friend’s introduction, she interviewed to be a saleswoman for another product; she dressed up and looked smart and energetic, so the manager thought she was only in her 30s and accepted her. The expansion of service sectors in the economic restructuring was once praised for absorbing a large proportion of women workers. Such jobs increasingly require the deployment of ‘‘feminine’’ charms and skills, and newly coined terms such as ‘‘youth occupations’’ 148


refer to the physical attractiveness they require. As Mother Ding found, younger faces are more likely to bene?t from the booming service industries. No matter how many constraints they faced or what social connections they might draw upon, most of my interviewees found some form of work, albeit mostly lower paid and part-time jobs, which exposed them to unpleasant and unregulated conditions.24 No one who worked in the private sector had a formal contract. Pay for part-time workers was not legally regulated: women who worked varied hours each day received the same amount of money at the end of the month. As Mother Dai (aged 54) put it, ‘‘You are just a temporary worker, whoever will take you seriously? . . . Also there are so many people out there looking for jobs, aren’t there? . . .Now you don’t have a say. You must give up everything [face, dignity, etc.] . . . Otherwise, you just stay at home eating porridge.’’ Those who became self-employed were no better off; according to state measures encouraging re-employment, laid-off workers were entitled to be tax-exempt or pay lower taxes, but none of the four who tried street vending bene?ted because they did not bother to apply as they thought the application procedure would be too complicated. By contrast, the few who had acquired non-manual positions made positive comments such as learning from the new job or being away from the control and surveillance in their former danwei, which suggests that redundancy could create an opportunity for women’s personal development. However, the extent to which they became empowered depended on a combination of factors such as ?nancial resources, possession of rich social connections, and professional skills. The few who were empowered by new opportunities were far outnumbered by those disempowered through redundancy. Most perceived the experience of redundancy as another unpleasant sacri?ce they had made for the development of the nation:25 Our generation has run into everything in our life. When we should receive education, we didn’t have the chance, only graduated from primary school. When we started work only at 15, we worked in threeshift rotations, destroying our health. When you tried to study something, the three-shift rotation prevented you from it. Later when you could devote yourself at 40, the factory went down and you were laid off. Now you want to work, but nobody wants you. I feel our whole life is miserable enough. (Mother Jing, aged 50)

CO N CL U S I ON I have focused on the experiences of working life and redundancy recounted in life history interviews with women workers in Nanjing and outlined the gendered consequences of China’s economic restructuring 149


and the accompanying social transformations. My study shows that women bore the cost of economic restructuring disproportionately, which is consistent with feminist literature on gender and globalization. However, Chinese women’s experiences are differentiated by age, gender, and social hierarchy as also exempli?ed in other post-socialist societies (for example, Pollert 2003). In particular, I drew attention to the experiences of a group of older and less-educated women, many of whom comprise the Cultural Revolution cohort, and show that these women perceived redundancy as another sacri?ce for the development of China. Despite the state’s rhetoric of gender equality and the major efforts made to implement it, in reality, women workers still experienced gender inequalities in the pre-reform era. Since the 1990s, when the reforms began to take place on a large scale, women have been thrown out into the marketplace, and they no longer have even the state rhetoric to protect their interests. Their prior lower social position has been reproduced in the process of ?nding work due to their poor connections. After China’s entry into the WTO, the state enterprise reforms accelerated. Due to further budget cuts committed by China to the WTO, many state enterprises carried out even larger-scale employee cutbacks. By the end of 2004, it was estimated that the number of unemployed state sector workers was as high as 60 million (Solinger 2006). At the time of my interviews in 2003, some women workers who themselves had been made redundant over the previous ten years also expressed deep concerns about their husband’s job security as privatizations were ongoing in various state enterprises. In spite of the massive redundancy and increasing urban poverty, the WTO is still hailed by some scholars and the Chinese media for its power to generate more jobs. The textile and clothing industries, in particular, are expected to bene?t through the removal of export quotas and the expiration of the Multi-Fiber Agreement (Elena Ianchovichina and Will Martin 2004).26 However, Solinger suggests that millions of textile factory workers had already been let go by the end of 1999 due to their factories’ inef?ciency in the face of ?erce international competition. The textile industry in Nanjing had been heavily hit by 1998. Recent studies show that the new opportunities offered in the rebuilding of textiles do not necessarily secure posts for those who have and will be dismissed from the plants (Dorothy J. Solinger 2005). Similarly, although the of?cer in the Women’s Federation I talked to revealed that the textile industry was revitalizing in the city, I was told by other interviewees that joint ventures or private owners took over previous state textile factories and demanded the release of large numbers of former employees. When recruiting employees, they hired young migrant women 150


workers at lower labor costs (see also Zhai and Wang 2002; Dong 2003). By contrast, older redundant women workers, who are disadvantaged in gaining skills and faced with age and sex discrimination, have mostly been con?ned to lower paid and unpleasant jobs. Moreover, as a result of increasing redundancy and rural – urban migration, there is growing competition from male redundant workers and migrant women workers (Dong et al. 2005). Flemming Christiansen (2001) concluded that in the short term the situation of the pensioners and the urban unemployed with low skill levels would most de?nitely worsen. I would add that older, less educated women workers, many of whom were from the ‘‘unlucky generation,’’ are unlikely to gain any bene?t from whatever advantages accrue from China’s economic integration into the global economy. In light of these results, more comprehensive anti-discrimination policies and their implementation are urgently called for. Government regulations to redress the gender bias of the reform process are essential to improve Chinese women’s lives. For example, age discrimination should be incorporated into labor law and employers who do not comply should face serious penalties. Although the state has long advocated gender equality and has made discrimination related to sex illegal, policy-makers should seriously focus on putting rhetoric into action. In the face of growing job insecurity, the social security system should be fully in place and widely implemented. Given that many of the redundant workers came from the Cultural Revolution cohort whose life course had been affected by changing state policies, the state should take sole responsibility to fully recognize and compensate these workers who have endured a lifetime of sacri?ces and suffering. Jieyu Liu, Centre for Chinese Business and Development, 14 – 20 Cromer Terrace, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, United Kingdom, e-mail: j.y.liu@leeds.ac.uk ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am grateful to Gunseli Berik, Gale Summer?eld, and Xiao-yuan Dong ¨ who offered invaluable advice at every stage of this paper. I would like to thank Diana Strassmann and all the staff at the Feminist Economics editorial of?ce for their warm support and assistance. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers and all the participants in the ‘‘Gender, China, and the WTO’’ workshop for their comments and criticism. Finally thanks to Anne Akeroyd who commented on the earlier draft of this article. 151

















The work unit was the basic unit of social organization in urban China between 1950 and the early 1990s. For the vast majority of urban residents, it was not only the source of lifetime employment and material bene?ts, but it was also the institution through which the urban population was housed, organized, and regulated. In this paper, I use ‘‘economic restructuring’’ to refer to China’s transformation from a socialist to a capitalist economy. The commodi?cation bias is the shift from state-based provision of goods and services to purchase of services on the market by those who can afford them (Elson and Cagatay 2000: 1354 – 5). ? ˇ During the Cultural Revolution, class struggle took precedence in every aspect of social life. Large numbers of urban students were sent down to the countryside to learn from the peasants; students who stayed in the city were involved in various political campaigns rather than receiving a more conventional education. The three types of enterprises are qiye danwei, shiye danwei, and xingzheng danwei, respectively. The state retirement age for women is 50 for workers and 55 for cadres (ganbu), who are workplace superiors, but it is 60 for both male workers and cadres. Within the category of cadre, there are several hierarchical levels. These centers acted as the trustee for laid-off workers. The ?rst opened in Shanghai in mid-1996 and was extended to other cities in 1998, but many ?rms could not ?nance their centers and many workers were unwilling to enter them (Edward X. Gu 2000). In 2001 the nationwide operation ended. In Nanjing, there was a ‘‘Double Ten’’ policy – workers who had worked continuously for ten years and had less than ten years until formal retirement could remain as xiagang (of?cially laid off) and then upgrade into internal retirement when they reached the set age (Nanjing Government 1999). Otherwise, they would have had to enter the center or choose to be ‘‘buy-outs.’’ (One interviewee in this study met the requirements but others commented that because it was a one-off policy they did not ‘‘catch’’ this bene?t). The National Textile Union negotiated a regulation that allowed some single-skilled textile workers, who had worked for twenty years and were within ten years of retirement, to be eligible for early retirement and thereby enter the state pension system (Zhang Zuowei 1998). This was a transitional policy during 1998 – 2001 and is now being phased out. Laid-off workers instead become eligible for the other two guarantees. Interviews averaged two hours; the longest was four hours. I have used pseudonyms here pre?xed by ‘‘Mother’’ because I also interviewed their daughters. Horizontal segregation is where women and men take different types of work and vertical segregation is where women are situated in the lower ranking occupations (Catherine Hakim 1979). ‘‘Becoming shorter’’ is a metaphor implying that men’s status would be reduced. However, it also suggests that women’s work carries less prestige. Bian Yanjie, John R. Logan, and Xiaoling Shu (2000: 118, Table 7.1) showed that the number of male party members was always higher than that of female members. Social capital refers to ‘‘the accessible resources embedded in the social structure or social networks that will bring bene?ts to their owners (Bourdieu 1986; Coleman 1990; Lin 1999)’’ (Zhao Yandong 2002: 555). Biaoxian implies ‘‘actual work performance in addition to one’s political thought, work attitude, virtue, morality, and other subjective qualities’’ (Walder 1986: 133). Among this group, two were given early retirement enabling them to enter the state pension scheme, one bene?ted from the one-off policy towards textile workers, and another was a cadre who managed to get early retirement.













A bonus system was introduced as part of the state enterprise reform to increase workers’ motivation at work. Bonuses are calculated according to workers’ work performance, the importance of their posts and the pro?ts of each enterprise. In Nanjing in 2002, the average monthly income was ?1,257 in pro?t-making enterprises, ?1,551 in nonpro?t institutions, and ?2,023 in administrative institutions (Nanjing Statistical Bureau 2003: 33). As my sample mainly consisted of women workers from the Cultural Revolution cohort, the conclusion about perceptions of the other two cohorts is tentative and requires further con?rmation from bigger sample studies. Hung and Chiu’s study, which includes both men and women, found similar generational understandings (2003). However, literature also suggests that redundant workers have started labor protests (Elizabeth J. Perry and Mark Selden 2000). My talk with of?cers on the street committee revealed that employers were more likely to lay off women workers, as they would not make a fuss, unlike their male counterparts. Two informants’ husbands were told they were to be made redundant but they went and argued with their leaders and succeeded in keeping themselves on. Street committees are the grassroots units in the state social control and welfare system; they are connected to the street of?ce of the municipal government and local police. They are also responsible for issuing the unemployment insurance and the minimum living allowances. Both spouses often worked in different danwei but mostly lived in the husband’s danwei. Existing studies found that male workers experienced a loss of face after being made redundant (Li, Zhang, and Zhao 2000). My informants seldom expressed this feeling, but when they mentioned their husbands who had been made redundant, they all mentioned that being redundant was emotionally tough for men as they were traditionally the ‘‘breadwinners.’’ I have no data about the social capital possessed by men, but Lin (2001), who analyzed a 1998 survey in seventeen Chinese cities, found women citizens had lower social capital than men in general. Being made redundant pushed women into full-time domesticity (see also Dong et al. 2005). However, it has not been documented that redundant male workers experienced this; indeed, my informants reported that when their husbands were made redundant, they still did nothing to help in domestic work. Based on survey data collected in four cities (Shengyang, Qingdao, Changsha, and Chengdu), Li, Zhang, and Zhao (2000: 97) found that a man is 1.94 times more likely to ?nd new work than women. The state rhetoric justi?ed redundancy as an inevitable consequence of China’s inexorable transition to a market economy. The old generation had to be sacri?ced because they had few quali?cations and skills. Women workers in particular were called upon to return home to open up more job opportunities for men. Godfrey Yeung and Vincent Mok (2004) argue that whether the reduction of Chinese import tariffs and export quotas would bene?t the industry still depends upon the size and ownership types of ?rms. Hence, the textiles and clothing industries are not necessarily the winners because of China’s entry into WTO, as the state media would have us believe.

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