Previous studies of stratification under state socialism have emphasized the institutional structure of redistributive economies. This article stresses the importance of the state and political mechanisms. We argue that individual life chances under state socialism are extremely sensitive to political processes, especially shifts in state policies, and that changes in state policies can dramatically alter opportunity structures, the status of structural locations, and the nature and value of political and human capital. Therefore, effects of these characteristics on life chances often vary across historical periods and over an individual's life course. Supporting evidence comes from a study of labor force entry and Communist Party membership in urban China from 1949 to 1993 based on life histories for samples of residents in Beijing and Shanghai.
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* We are grateful to Liren Hou and Lin Lu for their able research assistance. The Sociology Departments at Fudan University in Shanghai and the People's University in Beijing, and, in particular Fan Weida, Li Qiang, PengXizhe, and Yan Jahn provided generous assistance with the data collection. We appreciate the helpful suggestions of David Grusky and Andrew Walder. This project has been partly supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (SES-9212936, SBR-9321462, SBR-9413540, SBR9541309), an ASAJNSF grant for the advancement of the discipline, the Halpern Fund, and an L.T. Lam Award from the East Asian Program at Cornell University. The first author was supported by a Spencer Fellowship from the National Academy of Education while working on this research. Send communications to Xueguang Zhou, Department of Sociology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.