Journal Article

Changing nature of the work units and urban governance in China: The enduring influence of public institutions

Published 2 August 2022 / By Kevin Wang

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Introduction

Economic reform and housing commercialisation have fundamentally changed employer and employee relations and resulted in new patterns of urban governance in China. Consequently, recent research has focused on the emergence of new residential forms, their corresponding homeowners’ associations, neighbourhood committees and shequ governance structures – shedding light on state re-emergence at the grassroots level. However, an important omission in the literature is the changing roles played by the large number of existing work units within urban governance. This paper examines the new status of urban work units and assesses the changing nature of public institutions and their impact on socio-economic relations in communities – using a 70-year-old city hospital (shiye-danwei) as a case study. Key actor interviews and field observations reveal that these type of work units have created a framework of ‘one work unit, multiple systems’ – where mainstream employees not only enjoyed high pay, enhanced support and benefits at work, but also more opportunities to exercise influence in the neighbourhoods where they live. The case demonstrates that neighbourhoods and work units form two pillars within contemporary Chinese urban society in which shequ, resident associations and the work units all provide social and economic support and concurrently exercise social and political control.

Citation

Wang K. (2022). Changing nature of the work units and urban governance in China: The enduring influence of public institutions. Transactions in Planning and Urban Research, doi:10.1177/27541223221109379