Sunday, September 14, 2008

Work unit

A work unit or danwei is the name given to a place of employment in the People's Republic of China. While the term ''danwei'' remains in use today it is more properly used to refer to a place of employment during the period when the was still more heavily socialist or when used in the context of one of state-owned enterprises.

Prior to Deng Xiaoping's a work unit acted as the first step of a multi-tiered hierarchy linking each individual with the central infrastructure. Work units were the principal method of implementing party policy. Also workers were bound to their work unit for life. Each ''danwei'' created their own housing, child care, schools, clinics, shops, services, post offices, etc.

The influence of a work unit on the life of an individual was substantial and permission had to be obtained from the work units before undertaking everyday events such as travel, marriage, or . Amongst other things, the work unit assigned individuals living quarters and provided them with food, which was eaten in centralized canteens. The ''danwei'' system was crucial to the implementation of the mis-named 'one child policy' as the reproductive behavior of workers could be monitored through the ''danwei'' system. Workers not complying with policy could have their pay docked, incentives withheld or living conditions downgraded.

The increasing liberalization of led to state owned enterprises being put into competition with private enterprise and, increasingly, foreign Multinational corporations. The iron rice bowl, the ideal of a job for every worker, continued to prevent work units from dismissing workers while private enterprises were able to the best workers. The decision by the central and provincial governments to offer tax and financial incentives to foreign investors in order to encourage them to invest in China led to further difficulties for the ''danwei'' system as the state run enterprises were increasingly unable to compete.

At the same time the role of the work unit has changed as China has moved from a socialist ideology to "Socialism with Chinese characteristics". By 2000 much of the work unit's power had been removed. In 2003, for example, it became possible to marry or divorce someone without needing authorization from ones' work unit.

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