Occupation, class, and social networks in urban China

Yanjie Bian, Ronald Breiger, Deborah Davis, Joseph Galaskiewicz

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97 Scopus citations


Chinas class structure is changing dramatically in the wake of post-1978 market-oriented economic reforms. The creation of a mixed "market- socialist" economy has eroded the institutional bases of a cadre-dominated social hierarchy and created conditions for a new pattern of social stratification. Although conditions remain dynamic, results of a 1998 urban survey that measured strength and diversity of social ties among 400 households in four of China's largest cities documented networks of social exchange among 13 occupation-based classes that identify a class structure distinct from the cadre-dominated social hierarchy of the Mao era. In particular, analysis of visiting during the Lunar New Year celebration suggests an urban society simultaneously divided along two axes: one by economic success in the more privatized economy and one by distinctions in political authority at the workplace. Thus contrary to those who privilege market transactions as the primary engine for creating a new class hierarchy, we conclude that to understand processes of social stratification one needs theories and methods that work simultaneously with multiple dynamics of class differentiation rather than presuming linear hierarchy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1443-1468
Number of pages26
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* Earlier versions of this article werepresented at the Sunbelt International Conference on Social Network Analysis, Cancun, Mexico, February I2-16, 2003; the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, Atlanta, August 15-19, 2003; and the conference "CurrentSituations in China," in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Universities Service Center, Chinese University of Hong Kong, January 5-7, 2004. A Henry Luce Foundation grant financed the survey analyzed here. Wethank twoanonymousreviewers and theEditor ofSocial Forces for helpfulcomments on an earlier version, and YuLi for his assistance with datapreparation. Directcorrespondence to Yanjie Bian,Division of Social Science, HongKongUniversity of Science and Technology, Clearwater Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong. E-mail: sobian@ust.hk.


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