The Beginning of the End for the Chinese Proletariat

  • Bo Ærenlund Sørensen University of Copenhagen
Keywords: media, post-Mao economic reforms, People’s Daily, incentive wages, employment security


This article examines how China’s Communist Party (CCP) sought to justify its policies fostering inequality at the urban factory floor in the early years after Mao’s death through publications in the People’s Daily. The article focuses on three issues that emerged frequently in the newspaper: the increased prevalence of incentive wages, the abolishment of life-time employment for workers and the evolving discourse related to worker influence at their workplace. The article shows that the People’s Daily did not simply seek to persuade the public that the reforms were compatible with socialism, the newspaper also took great care to showcase which kinds of behaviours and emotions would be appropriate for the new working subject. The CCP’s dedication to reforming the population through the press makes the People’s Daily an excellent source for tracking norm intransigence on the part of the population. Based on the observation that the CCP sought to legitimate policies ending employment security many years before such policies were adopted, the article also suggests that public opinion had a direct influence on the timing of the early reforms.

Author Biography

Bo Ærenlund Sørensen, University of Copenhagen
Bo Ærenlund Sørensen is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen. His research interests include contemporary Chinese society, modern Chinese history, labour history, comparative literature, media and communication studies, digital humanities and cognitive science. E-mail:


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