Chinese social stratification and social mobility

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This essay reviews post-1980 research on class stratification, socioeconomic inequalities, and social mobility in the People's Republic of China. Chinese class stratification has transformed from a rigid status hierarchy under Mao to an open, evolving class system in the post-Mao period. Socioeconomic inequalities have also been altered. State redistributive inequalities are giving way to patterns increasingly generated by how individuals and groups succeed in a growing market-oriented economy; rigorous empirical studies have been conducted on occupational prestige, income distribution, housing and consumption, and gender inequality. Finally, occupational mobility, a rare opportunity under Mao, is becoming a living experience for many Chinese in light of emerging labor markets. Scholarly works on status attainment, career mobility, and employment processes show both stability and change in the once politicized social mobility regime. There is relatively richer research output on urban than on rural China, despite the greater and more profound transformations that occurred in rural China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-116
Number of pages26
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • China class
  • Inequality
  • Mobility


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