Criteria for social stratification and the current state of the structure of social strata in China

Two methods for analyzing social structure: class analysis and stratum analysis

There are two methods for analyzing social structure: one is class analysis, and the other is stratum analysis.

There is now a view in society that class analysis is Marxist, while the analysis of social strata is represented by the Western scholar Max Weber. Some people simply say that the latter is bourgeois. This is actually a misconception. Marxists engage not only in class analysis, but also the analysis of strata. Weber primarily analyzed social strata, but also conducted class analysis. From an academic point of view, one cannot simply say that the two are in opposition.

The difference between the two lies in the different starting points and focuses, and that the purposes and methods of research are different. For example, in the revolutionary period, when we earned out the proletarian revolution, the purpose was to seize political power. Our purpose for analyzing social strata now is different. Times have changed, the purpose is different, and the method should also be different.

We believe that there are still classes and class struggle in contemporary China, and that the principle of class analysis should be upheld. However, the analysis should be carried out according to the changed situation and on the basis of facts. At the present stage, taking the ruling status of our party into account and in view of the need for socialist construction, it is better to adopt a method focusing on the analysis of strata. Moreover, since the 1960s, most countries have adopted the method of stratum analysis to study and understand the national condition of the social structure in one’s own country. For instance, Japan since 1955 has conducted a survey of the social structure every 10 years, called “Social Strata and Social Mobility.”

The 4th Plenary Session of the 16th CPC Central Committee proposed the strategic task of building a socialist harmonious society. I believe one of the important aspects of building a harmonious society is the coordination of the relations among various social strata, so that the economic interests and political relations among all social strata can be properly realized, and these relations can be constantly adjusted. Such a society will be more harmonious.

The status of research on social stratification

In terms of broad frameworks, there are three approaches to the study of social structure in contemporary China: the first approach is two-class analysis, which is based on the belief in a classification of two classes and several strata; namely, the working class and the peasant class, and the strata of private business owners, managerial personnel, professional and technical personnel, and so on. The second is class analysis, which divides the Chinese society into seven classes. There are also people who make a division into six classes. This is the approach used within the academic conununity. The third approach his represented by people who advocate stratum analysis and believe that, at present, the method of stratum analysis is better and accords with the current national conditions in our country. Our research belongs to this analytical framework.

In the past two years, based on a large amount of research materials and survey data, we have analyzed the structure of social strata across the country'. The analysis has resulted in a stratified classification of 10 major strata. It should be noted here that it is mainly based on a nationwide sample survey. We sampled 6,000 households from 72 counties and cities in 12 provinces and municipalities, and obtained the weighted average of the survey results, so this data is not exactly the same as those of the Bureau of Statistics, but basically close (Table 14.1).

Since this stratified classification was relatively new at that time and had not been done in the past, it received a positive response from society. However, if there are people supporting one thing, there will also be people opposing it. According to a survey conducted by China Youth Net, among the 2,000 people interviewed online, about 65% endorsed this classification, but there were trade unionists who held different opinions. Some of them even knew me and said: “Mr. Lu, you put the working class at the eighth place. What do you want us to do?” Our answer contains two points. First, the working class is the leading class

Table 14.1 Ten major strata and their proportions


State and social management personnel


Private business owners

Professional and technical personnel

Clerical personnel

Individual industrial and commercial households

Business service personnel

Industrial workers

Agricultural laborers

Unemployed and semi-unemployed people

  • 2.1%
  • 1.6%
  • 1.0%
  • 4.6%
  • 7.2%
  • 7.1%
  • 11.2%
  • 17.5%
  • 42.9%
  • 4.8%

Source: China Statistical Abstract.

in China. This is a political concept. The stratum of industrial workers we talked about is a concept employed in the sociologic study of social stratification. These two concepts are different, and cannot be placed on a par. Second, we should make it clear that it is the result of our investigation and not that we ranked the working class as such. Objectively speaking, our definition of which social stratum a person belongs to is based, first of all, on the person’s occupation, and second, on how much organizational, cultural, and economic resources the person possesses. To determine which social stratum a person belongs to on the basis of these two criteria means that it is not that we rank these people in this way, but that they are where they are according to changes in their social life and social position.

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