On the edge between the people and the population: Ethnographic research on the minimum livelihood guarantee

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This article examines how local resistance against government attempts to reduce poverty to a technical problem ironically reinforces the precarious state of the poor. It looks at the workings of the minimum livelihood guarantee (dibao) through mundane interactions between street-level officials and poor residents in a workers' village on the periphery of Harbin. As the party-state's primary policy for urban poverty, dibao has introduced a new rationality that poverty is calculable and flexible. Urban laid-off workers have resisted this by invoking the socialist claim that they are the people. I examine how this resistance has led street-level officials to be preoccupied with the old socialist norm of an ability to work rather than with income as dibao's official criterion. The new local criterion has produced the ironic effect that urban laid-off workers, who were understood to be dibao's main target, have been mostly excluded from the scheme. Copyright.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-37
Number of pages18
JournalChina Quarterly
Issue number201
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Mar 1


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations

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