As state socialist countries for decades, China and Vietnam abandoned central planning for marketization at the turn of the 1980s. With political systems that feature continued leadership of the communist party and at the same time with deepening privatization, these countries are now vastly different from what they used to be. Economic growth, industrialization and urbanization have ushered in entirely new landscapes of production, consumption, and mobility.
One major transformation has been in the realm of social protection. Following years of declining socialist welfare, both governments have been recently pushing ahead with ambitious welfare programs. Like in many other southern contexts, universal health insurance, pension, and cash transfers have been expanding along with provisions by diverse non-state actors. Another transformation has been massive rural-urban labor mobility. In both countries, millions and millions of people migrate to urban and industrial areas to work in factories that produce consumer goods for the whole world. Many live away from their families as they work to sustain them.
The labor of migrant workers has been instrumental to both national development and global corporations’ profitability in these rapidly changing countries. Their welfare is a contested domain in which the workers, the state, global capital, and wider society all have a stake. The focus on migrant worker welfare is therefore highly productive for understanding the moral, social, and political dynamics of welfare restructuring.
Housing developments on display in a real estate agency in Yunnan.
Photo by: Minh Nguyen