Prior to China’s market reforms, the state could force millions of people wherever labor was needed. At the same time, the state guaranteed employment and livelihoods without major demands for compensation. Today, the old security (the “rice bowl of iron”) is long gone; the right to lifetime government work was abolished in 1986.
In the 2010s, according to official data, unemployment was stable at around 4 percent. However, the calculations were only based on those registered as urban dwellers (see Social conditions). In 2018, the statistical authority introduced a new calculation system that took into account all the inhabitants of the cities through monthly surveys: the statistics then showed that unemployment was around 5 percent. But still, the countryside, where the employment rate is widespread, was not included in the calculations. There is concern among Chinese decision-makers that unemployment will rise sharply as a result of declining economic growth, which could lead to popular protests.
For a long time, it is common for rural residents to go to the cities to work for long periods. Possible children are left with grandparents. At the beginning of the 2020s, the so-called labor migrants amounted to just over 290 million. Recently, some large companies have moved their factories inland from the big coastal cities in order to facilitate the opportunities for access to cheap labor. This has meant that some rural residents do not have to travel as far to find a job.
China has been able to attract foreign investors and companies with their large workforce and low wages. But in the 2010s, an opposite trend began to be noticed. The average wage for workers has been increased in many quarters, although there are still large wage differences between distant cities in the north-west provinces and the southern economically developed parts of the country. That the total number of Chinese working-age people reached their peak in the middle of the 2010s and that the labor force will gradually decline since then is also expected to affect the wage situation.
- COUNTRYAAH: List of key population facts of China, covering most basic population data, religion statistics, and language profiles.
During the first decades of the 2000s, reports have become more common about workplace unrest and strikes in protest against layoffs, low or contained wages, corruption, insecurity and poor working environment. Strike is not prohibited by law, but there is no protection for the right to strike. Wild strikes are quickly injured, often with violence. Safety is poor in many workplaces, especially in the construction industry, while the situation has improved in the mining industry where fatal accidents were more common in the past.
According to the law, employees are entitled to a contract of employment, 40 hours of work week and fixed overtime compensation, equal pay for equal work and protection from various forms of discrimination. But it is common for employers to violate these requirements and it is often up to the employees themselves to try to assert their rights or turn to the judiciary. There is a minimum wage set by the provincial governments on the basis of living costs and it should, according to national guidelines, be about 40 percent of the average salary in the province. But the minimum wage is often significantly lower and it is common for people to be forced to work overtime to get a living wage. The difference can also be large between poor and rich provinces: in July 2018, Shanghai had the highest minimum wage of 2,400 yuan,
Child labor occurs in parts of China. Forced labor also occurs.
According to zhengsourcing, all unions are governed by the state-run All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which has over 300 million members. In reality, the ACFTU is subordinate to the Communist Party. Independent unions are prohibited.
FACTS – LABOR MARKET
4.4 percent (2019)
10.6 percent (2019)
Democracy advocates are prohibited from participating in local elections in Hong Kong
Eddie Chu, a popular member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council (Parliament, LegCo), is not allowed to run in the village-level elections by election organizers. The Hong Kong Government supports the decision, which is based on Eddie Chu being judged to advocate for Hong Kong independence, as he is said to have expressed his support for residents’ freedom of expression and the right to openly advocate independence. Eddie Chu states that he is opposed to the area becoming independent, but that he believes Hong Kong residents should have the right to vote on their future.
Huawei chief arrested in Canada
Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, is arrested in Canada. The United States has requested her extradition for attempting to circumvent sanctions against Iran in 2009-2014. She should have withheld that a company that would sell American equipment to Iran had a connection with Huawei. China criticizes the arrest and demands that Meng be released because she has not broken any laws. Shortly thereafter, a Canadian former diplomat is arrested in China, in what assessors perceive as a revenge act on Beijing’s part. A few days later, another Canadian national, a businessman, is reported to have been arrested by Chinese security service in Liaoning. Both Canadians are accused of threatening China’s security.
Positive meeting between Abe and Xi
Japan and China enter into important business dealings, with Japan’s Prime Minister Abe making an official visit to Beijing to meet President Xi. Japanese companies also manage to sign 500 business contracts that give them access to the Chinese market. Xi and Abe also sign several political agreements, including a special mechanism (MACM) that facilitates communication between countries to avoid collisions between Chinese and Japanese military vessels. The countries will also cooperate in rescue operations at sea and continue to develop a military communication channel (hotline) between the countries.
China’s billionaires are getting richer and richer
According to a report from the Swiss bank UBS, among others, the Chinese billionaires’ wealth increased by 39 percent in 2017. The growth rate was almost twice as fast as for billionaires worldwide. In total, the Chinese billionaires had assets of over $ 1,200 billion. Each week last year, China received two new billionaires.
China opens record-breaking bridge to Hong Kong
The world’s longest bridge over water was opened at a special ceremony by President Xi Jinping. The bridge connects the Chinese mainland with Hong Kong and Macao and is 5.5 kilometers long. Critical votes meant that the bridge was a way for Beijing to further highlight and consolidate its control over Hong Kong.
Corruption-suspected Interpol chief requests resignation
Meng Hongwei, who became chairman of Interpol 2016, reportedly disappeared by French police after not returning to France after a trip to China. The newly formed National Supervisory Commission, which investigates corruption crimes within the state apparatus, announced shortly thereafter that Meng Hongwei was being investigated for receiving bribes. Shortly thereafter, Meng sent a farewell application to Interpol. Meng also holds a post as Deputy Minister of Security – a post he was appointed by influential Zhou Yongkang, a rival to President Xi. In 2014, Zhou was sentenced to life imprisonment for having, among other things, leaked state secrets.
British journalist denied work visa Hong Kong
Financial Times Asia editor Victor Mallet is stopped from renewing his work visa by immigration authorities in Hong Kong. The reason is believed to be in August he invited independence activist Andy Chan to speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong. Chan is the founder of the Hong Kong Nationalist Party, banned by the Hong Kong authorities in September. China has warned other countries to intervene in the decision, which it claims is the Hong Kong government’s cause.
Independence Party in Hong Kong is banned
The Hong Kong Security Authority decides that the Hong Kong Nationalist Party (HKNP) should be banned for security reasons. The party has strived for Hong Kong to become independent and no longer be part of China. The party was formed in 2016 by a small group of independence activists led by Andy Chan. He and party members have been barred from running for political office.
The trade war with the United States continues
New US customs duties are beginning to be introduced on nearly 6,000 Chinese goods worth more than $ 200 billion. The duty rate starts at 10 percent but is increased to 25 percent at the turn of the year unless an agreement can be reached. China responds by directly imposing tariffs on US imports worth $ 60 billion. US President Trump has stated that he is prepared to impose all imports from China with increased tariffs unless the country agrees to US requirements (see also August and July 2018).
China criticizes Sweden for racism and police violence
After three Chinese tourists are detained by police from a hotel in Stockholm, China’s ambassador to Sweden demands an apology from Sweden and that the police involved are punished. China also warns Chinese tourists in Sweden of security risks. The tourists, with two aged parents and a son, should have tried to sleep in the hotel lobby one night when they had no reservation at the hotel, after which the hotel called the police, who moved the tourists handily. Video footage of the tourists – a man and his aged parents – on the street has been shown in Chinese media. This leads to sharp criticism of the Swedish authorities’ actions but also to reactions that the family overplayed and were unnecessarily dramatic. The incident occurs the week after Tibet’s ex-Dalai lama visited Sweden, and in light of Sweden’s criticism of China’s treatment of the publisher Gui Minhai, who is still incarcerated in China. A few days later, China’s embassy in Sweden criticizes a satirical TV show about Chinese tourists for being racist and demanding an apology. The host claims that the element instead runs with the angry image of Chinese and Asians.
Agreement with the Vatican on the appointment of bishops
The Vatican and the Chinese government are said to have agreed on how Catholic bishops should be appointed in China. A dialogue will be held between Beijing and the Vatican about who should be appointed bishops, but the Pope is the one who appoints them. Following the agreement, the Pope gives recognition to seven bishops previously appointed by the Chinese government. In the past, Catholic communities with the Pope as supreme leader have been allowed to operate underground, while only communities with bishops appointed by the Communist regime have been officially recognized.
China protests against US sanctions
The United States is facing financial penalties against a department responsible for purchasing within the Chinese defense and against its chief. The reason is that China has purchased fighter aircraft and equipment for anti-aircraft systems from Russia, which according to the US government contravenes the US sanctions imposed on Moscow as a consequence of the annexation of Ukraine in 2014 and alleged involvement in the US elections in 2016. China has not joined to the Western countries’ sanctions against Russia.
New duties against the United States
The US continues to impose tariffs on Chinese goods, including semiconductors, plastics and chemicals, now worth $ 16 billion. Beijing is responding directly with the imposition of duties at the same amount on various US goods. China’s trade ministry says it will notify the United States of America to the WTO because it believes US tariffs violate the organization’s rules.
Government employees are punished for vaccine scandal
20th of August
Several high-ranking party officials and employees of the Food and Drug Administration are forced to resign as a result of cheating with a rabies vaccine, which was discovered during the summer. In addition, some 20 employees at the country’s largest vaccine company, Changsheng Biotechnology, based in Jilin Province, where the cheating took place have been detained and investigated for crimes. The deputy party chief in the province of Jilin, where the inferior vaccine has been sold as well as in the province of Hubei, is also being fired. In October, the company was ordered to pay a fine, even though the vaccine had not been used.
Three million Uighurs are being held in custody, according to the UN committee
According to the UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination, about three million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are in special camps against extremism or in training camps for retraining. According to the Committee, this is a consequence of the Chinese regime’s hard grip on what is termed religious extremism and separatist movements in the Xinjiang region. The figure is significantly higher than the tens of thousands that some human rights organizations have calculated the number of detained. Beijing rejects the information, claiming that all ethnic groups in the country are treated equally.
New vaccine scandal
It is discovered that a domestic company has sold substandard vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. Over 250,000 doses are reported to have been sold by the vaccine to state authorities in Shandong Province. The news raises great disarray among many Chinese who have the 2016 vaccine scandal in fresh memory. The State Medicines Agency announces that it will monitor all vaccine manufacturers in the country.
Democracy activist sentenced to 13 years in prison
Qin Yongmin, who has already spent over 20 years of his life in prison, is sentenced for overthrowing activities to 13 years in prison. He was last jailed by a court in 1998 after he, along with other activists, tried to register a new party, China’s Democratic Party. He was released in 2010.
Peace Laureates widow is allowed to travel to Berlin
Liu Xia, wife of the now-defunct Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, is allowed to leave Beijing after spending nearly eight years in house arrest. However, activists say that Liu Xia’s brother is still in the country can be used as a hold on Liu Xia who is said to have traveled to Germany to receive medical care. In a judgment that was considered to be a punishment against the family, the brother was convicted in 2013 for financial irregularities in connection with a real estate deal.
Beijing accuses the US of launching a trade war
The US is starting to impose 25 percent Chinese customs duties, equivalent to a value of $ 34 billion. At the same time, duties on goods for another $ 16 billion are on the way. The Beijing government accuses the United States of “launching the biggest trade war in history” and responds by imposing penalties on US goods of equal value. China’s actions will notify the United States a few days later, on July 11, that a process has been initiated to already introduce in September new tariffs on Chinese goods worth $ 200 billion.
Trade conflict with the US is exacerbated
The US announces the imposition of duties on some 1,100 Chinese goods for the equivalent of $ 50 billion. Penalties will begin to be imposed on a large number of technological products from 6 July. China’s response will be to deposit US goods at customs for a corresponding value from the same date. The conflict escalates a few days later when US President Donald Trump threatens to impose more import duties on Chinese goods worth $ 200 billion unless Beijing fails. Among other things, the US accuses China of stealing technology and intellectual property assets such as patents and trademarks.
Hong Kong activist sentenced to six years in prison
Edward Leung, who was the leader of an independence movement in Hong Kong, is sentenced by a court to a six-year prison sentence after throwing bricks against the police during a protest in May 2016. Another two activists are sentenced to seven years in prison while a fourth participant will spend 3.5 years in prison for participating in the protests, known as the Fishball Revolution, because they began as an attempt to protect street stands against health inspections.
Tibetan language activist receives prison sentence
A Tibetan is convicted of contributing to separatism and sentenced to five years in prison. The man has tried to raise awareness of the diminishing use of Tibetan in Tibet and what threat it poses to the existence of the language. The man, who has been in house arrest since being interviewed in the New York Times two years ago, has also criticized the ongoing extinction of Tibetan culture.
Exercises with fighter jets in the South China Sea
China conducts military exercises on the largest Chinese military base in the Paracel Islands, an archipelago that many Southeast Asian countries have long disputed over, as well as the Sprat Islands. The exercises are criticized by the US for leading to “militarization in the South China Sea”. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry claims that it is about normal exercises and that the archipelago belongs to China.
Trade war with the United States averted
Following negotiations, government delegations from China and the United States agree to inflate increased tariffs planned from both directions. Instead, the countries have agreed that China should increase its imports of US goods to reduce the US deficit of about $ 375 billion in bilateral trade. The US is thus stopping, at least for the time being, the increased tariffs on various Chinese goods it has warned about. In March, heavily criticized import duties imposed 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.
Former Politburo member convicted of corruption
Sun Zhengcai, former Chongqing party leader and former Politburo member, is sentenced to life imprisonment for receiving bribes worth more than 170 million yuan.
Xi and Modi agree on relaxation
At an informal meeting in Wuhan, China, President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Modi will agree to work to reduce tensions at the borders between both countries. For example, strategic guidelines have now been drawn up for the two countries’ military forces. In June 2017, the situation in Doklam in the Himalayas was approaching a state of war as China initiated a road construction in the area that both China and India’s close ally Bhutan are claiming. India sent troops to Doklam to stop road construction. The troops were withdrawn in August of that year and the situation calmed down.
Military exercise in Taiwan Strait
One day, the Chinese military carries out military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. According to official sources in China, the exercise is meant as a warning directed at Taiwan to discourage independence efforts. The Taiwan Department of Defense sees the statement as scare tactics and points out that the exercise is held every year.
The United States is facing criminal charges against China
US President Donald Trump imposes tariffs on goods from China for $ 50-60 billion. The measure is a way of punishing China for failing to respect US copyright on, for example, technology development. The message is met with a sharp response from China that publishes a list of US goods that it is considering to impose on customs duties.
The National People’s Congress strengthens Xi’s power
The National People’s Congress meeting, which began on March 5, ends two weeks later. Several important decisions have been made – the most significant being the abolition of the restriction on how many terms the President may sit in his post, the formation of a special national surveillance commission that will lead the fight against corruption not only within the party but also among other government employees and that Xi Jinping’s political thoughts on “Socialism with Chinese characters in a new era” is written into the constitution. The changes show that Xi has further managed to confirm his position of power and he is now the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.
Xi Jinping re-elected president
The roughly 3,000 members gathered at the National People’s Congress annual meeting nominate Xi Jinping as president of China for another term on March 17. The following day, the People’s Congress voted in favor of removing the restriction on two terms of office for the presidential post.
More money for the defense
The defense budget is to be increased by just over 8 percent in 2018 as part of a continued modernization of the defense. The money will go to new weapons, among other things.
Xi can remain president after 2023
Ahead of the National People’s Congress annual meeting in early March, the Communist Party surprisingly presents a proposal to remove the limit in two terms for how long someone can be president or vice president. The proposal will be formally confirmed by the National People’s Congress. Thus, it will be possible for Xi Jinping to remain president even after his second term expires.
Former Politburo member is charged with bribery
Sun Zhengcai, former party leader in Chongqing, is facing trial for receiving large sums of money in bribery. Since last summer, the case has been under investigation by the Communist Party’s monitoring body and Sun was suspended from the party last fall. According to senior figures in the Communist Party, Sun is said to have been involved in a power conspiracy with former security chief Zhou Yongkang and former party secretary in Chongqing Bo Xilai, who were both sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Swedish publisher criticizes Sweden in video recording
Three weeks after the Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhais was abducted during a train trip with Swedish diplomats, a video is circulated in which he makes a confession and makes a critical statement about Sweden. He says, among other things, that Sweden should have tried to pressure him to leave China, even though he is forbidden to do so pending the legal process against him. He also says that Sweden has dramatized and made headlines of what happened to him.
Hong Kong activists escape prison
6th of February
Hong Kong Supreme Court withdraws prison sentences imposed last summer against three leaders of Hong Kong democracy protests in 2014, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow (see August 2017). After serving two months of the prison sentence, activists were released in November 2017 to appeal their verdicts to the Supreme Court. It considers in its verdict that prison sentences are too harsh because they have been retroactively introduced against the activists and therefore abrogate the judgments. But the court warns at the same time that similar actions will henceforth result in harsher penalties than before. Wong, Law and Chow were sentenced to community service in September 2014 after they had entered a restricted area in front of the Hong Kong government buildings in conjunction with demonstrations. The judges triggered the extensive so-called umbrella protests that went on for a couple of months during the same autumn. Wong has appealed yet another judgment for disobedience to the court (see January 2018)) waiting to be admitted to court.
Disputes over routes between China and Taiwan
30th of January
After China opened four new routes in the Taiwan Strait without first negotiating with Taiwan, the Taipei government first responds by requesting a meeting with Beijing to discuss it all. But when no answer comes from China, Taipei responds by refusing two Chinese airlines to put in 176 extra trips to Taiwan over the Chinese New Year. The airlines, which have already sold the journeys to over 50,000 Chinese travelers, are now forced to cancel the journeys. Taiwan claims that the new Chinese airlines threaten flight safety and is in violation of a joint agreement from 2015 that says new routes must be discussed before they are launched.
Swedish publisher again arrested
According to The New York Times, the Swedish publisher Gui Minhai was abducted by police during a train journey with two Swedish diplomats. He was on his way to receive medical care at the Swedish embassy in Beijing. The Swedish Foreign Ministry confirms the information.
China criticizes US new tariffs on solar panels
The message that the US is imposing high trade tariffs on washing machines and solar panels receives criticism from China, which is the world’s leading manufacturer of solar panels. China, in turn, has been criticized for selling Chinese equipment to solar panels in the US at too low prices.
The number of births is declining despite two-child policy
According to the statistics authority, 17.2 million children were born in 2017, compared with 17.9 million in 2016. In 2017, therefore, there was no longer any increase in childbirth, despite the possibility of couples having two children – a change introduced in 2015 to try to tackle the problem of a aging population. About half of the newborn babies in 2017 were parents’ other children.
Good economic growth in 2017
According to official statistics, GDP grew by 6.9 percent in 2017. It was the highest growth rate in two years.
Another prison sentence against Hong Kong activist
Joshua Wong is sentenced to three months in prison by a Hong Kong court. The verdict against the democracy activist concerns his participation in the democracy protests in the fall of 2014, in particular his and other activists’ refusal to leave a demonstration area. Another activist is sentenced to four months in prison. Wong has already been sentenced to six months in prison in a August 2017 sentence, but he is still released after appealing the sentence.
Japanese protest against Chinese military ships near Senkaku / Diaoyu
According to the Japanese government, not only a Chinese military ship but also a submarine was sighted near the disputed Senkaku / Diaoyu archipelago, controlled by Japan. Japan leaves an official protest to China after the incident.
Record high surplus in US trade
China’s trade surplus amounts to nearly US $ 276 billion for 2017. That is the highest figure ever. At the same time, however, China’s total trade surplus has decreased by 17 percent compared to 2016.