Journalists, China-watchers and academics have fiercely debated the legacy of China’s leaders, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Some see the Hu–Wen period (2002–2012) as a “golden era” of rapid growth, while others portray it as a “lost decade” for economic and political reform. But few observers have examined Hu and Wen’s social welfare reforms – despite their unprecedented reach and their potential to improve for the lives of vast numbers of people. The Hu–Wen administration introduced legislation to improve the working conditions of migrant workers, initiatives to facilitate the growth of a civic welfare infrastructure and policies to “Build a new socialist countryside.” Their rural pensions, rural co-operative medical schemes and the abolition of agricultural taxes were key milestones toward improving the life of rural residents, and they for the first time in China’s history established entitlements to social security across the whole population.

A set of four new articles examines the politics of these important Hu–Wen administration social policies. Delving into the processes behind these policies, as well as their outcomes, the papers show the complex interplay of actors, influences and calculations that shaped them, as well as both their successes and their limitations in reducing poverty and inequality.

Jude Howell and Jane Duckett

The following key articles are freely available until February 28, 2019:

  1. Introduction by Jude Howell and Jane Duckett,
  2. NGOs and Civil Society: The Politics of Crafting a Civic Welfare Infrastructure in the Hu–Wen Period, Jude Howell,
  3. International Influences on Policymaking in China: Network Authoritarianism from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, Jane Duckett,
  4. Principle-guided Policy Experimentation in China: From Rural Tax and Fee Reform to Hu and Wen’s Abolition of Agricultural Tax, Guohui Wang,
  5. Social Policy and Income Inequality during the Hu–Wen Era: A Progressive Legacy?, Qin Gao, Sui Yang, Fuhua Zhai,


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