ABSTRACT

After having denied for 20 years even the possibility that there could be a problem of unemployment in a country in which 'the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of the ownership of the means of production' had been resolved, 1 the Chinese authorities were forced in 1979 to recognize the existence of an 'employment problem' in their country, especially in the towns and cities. Chinese experts who have attempted to explain this problem have generally agreed that the basic cause is the gap between population increase since 1949 (about 2% a year on average) and rather sluggish economic growth. The other reasons mentioned were mainly the 'irrational' structure of the economy, the over-centralized labour management system and the policy of sending 'educated youths' to the countryside at the time of the Cultural Revolution. 2 It is usually estimated that 17 million city-dwellers were sent to the countryside between 1968 and 1978, and 13 or 14 million peasants were recruited in urban areas in the same period. Taking returnees into account there were probably still 10 million young people in the countryside at the end of 1978, 3 when, taking advantage of the political liberalization following the return to power of Deng Xiaoping, vast numbers of them began to return to the cities. The return of these young people and the imminence of the arrival on the employment market of the products of the baby boom of the early 1960s created an emergency situation which led the authorities to envisage and adopt a numbur of measures. These were aimed at reducing the gap between the employment absorptive capacity of the urban economy and the number of young city-dwellers 'waiting for work' (daiye qingnian). They can be divided into three categories that we shall look at separately: 1) 'negative' socioeconomic measures, aimed at limiting the number of job-seekers in the cities; 2) 'positive' socio-economic measures, aimed at enlarging the capacity of urban work units to absorb labour; 3) technical measures intended to improve the recruitment system.