Social hierarchies and inequality in a society are shaped by the modes of production that extract and transfer surplus among social groups. In China under socialism, the redistributive economy established a powerful tributary mode of production (TMP) that extracted surplus from rural areas to cities and from commoner producers to cadre-officials. This TMP created two fundamental hierarchies in socialist China: the urban-rural divide and the official-commoner divide, both of which were based on politically defined statuses. China’s post-socialist transition has led to both a resurgence of the traditional petty-commodity mode of production (PCMP) and the rise of a novel capitalist mode of production (CMP). The PCMP and CMP have created new social hierarchies that are based on people’s economic positions in markets and are making today’s Chinese society increasing stratified by a hierarchy of economically determined classes. In both rural and urban areas, a new economic elite has emerged, who accumulated their wealth from entrepreneurial activities under the CMP. The rank of petty-commodity producers has also increased sharply through urban self-employment and household-based commercial productions in rural areas. The nature of the urban-rural divide is also CHANging. Although the politically defined urban and rural statuses are still in effect, economic positions in the labor and housing markets are becoming more important in determining rural migrants’ life CHANces in cities and in shaping inequality between urban and rural areas.
China, Social conditions, Hierarchy
Asian Studies | Inequality and Stratification
Understanding Chinese Society
City or Country
Zhang, Qian Forrest. 2011. "Status and Hierarchy." In Understanding Chinese Society, edited by Zang Xiaowei, 96-110. London: Routledge.