Public Attitudes towards Social Policy in Urban China: Sub-national Variation, Local Welfare Regimes and Implications for Policy Reforms

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    Public support is an essential component in the legitimacy of welfare policies. Because the financing and provision of welfare ultimately depends on citizens’ willingness to pay taxes and insurance contributions, it is vital to understand public attitudes towards the social policy system and individual sectoral policies. This is even more critical for less developed countries which are undergoing major social policy expansion, such as China. While the structure of the Chinese social policy system is largely in place, low benefits, heavy contribution burden and unequal entitlements have been a major source of public discontent. Compounding these problems is the fragmentation of the system. As the country’s decentralized approach to social policy has resulted in different “worlds of welfare”, this remarkable sub-national variation may have shaped public attitudes, which in turn will determine popular support for social policy reforms in the future. In social policy literature, the self-interest thesis and ideology thesis have explained popular support for social policies, while in recent years the institutional set-up was found to be a critical factor in explaining cross-national variations. As the sheer size of China and the fragmented social policy system are analogous to a cross-national comparison, it is thus reasonable to hypothesize that the notable variation in local welfare systems also determines people’s attitudes. Which “regime type” tends to engender greater support? To what extent can institutional set-up, self-interests and ideologies account for the variation at both the individual level and collective level? Is there significant variation in public attitudes towards different sectoral social policies? What are the implications for future social policy reform and state legitimacy? These questions are of theoretical as well as policy significance but remain unanswered. This project aims to fill this gap with rigorous interdisciplinary investigation. We will select Guangdong Province and Gansu Province, which represent regions of high- and low-economic development as well as different provincial welfare regimes, for analysis. A series of local welfare regime types will also be identified within these provinces. Employing a sequential exploratory research design, this study will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods in data collection and analysis. Upon completion, it will advance scholarly understanding on public attitudes toward social policy in a populous country with substantive regional disparity, examine the robustness of existing theories in the Chinese context, and provide policy-makers with evidence-based recommendations on popular support for social policy reforms.

    Funding Source: RGC - General Research Fund (GRF)
    Effective start/end date01/01/1731/12/18


    • public attitude
    • popular legitimacy
    • China
    • welfare regime
    • fragmentation
    • social policy


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