There is high, and there is low: a qualitative examination of framings of inequality that Chinese people apply

Andreas Michael Østerby-Jørgensen

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Abstract

Economic inequality in China has increased significantly over the past four decades, and I examined the cultural resources that Chinese people have deployed to frame this new inequality. Based on 75 interviews with Chinese people, I identified three framings of inequality: The meritocratic framing views inequality as the result of differences in effort, ability or contribution; the developmental framing emphasizes that because everyone is doing materially better than four decades ago, it does not matter that economic inequality has increased; and what I call the difference-order framing, which emphasizes that individuals are born into different families with different levels of resources; therefore, they cannot be equal, which is not unfair. As such, even though China was a much more economically equal society just a few decades ago, available cultural resources enable Chinese people to frame inequality in ways that justify, rather than problematize, the phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocio-Economic Review
Volume21
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)1083–1101
Number of pages19
ISSN1475-1461
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Keywords

  • China
  • culture
  • ideology
  • inequality
  • moral norms
  • stratification

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