The social issues during the De-danwei reform in Daqing (in the Northeast of China) within the post-growth era


  • Jiajing Huang University of Kassel


de-danwei reform, post-danwei society, urban shrinkage




Since the economic reforms 1978, the Chinese city has undergone a multifaceted urban transformation process. It has shifted from the previous central planning to a “market economy with Chinese characteristics”. Unlike advanced areas, the northeast region has gone through a struggling social-economic restructuring since the economic reforms. The region was characterized by the “Northeast Phenomenon”. In 2002 the policy of “Northeast Area Revitalization” was first proposed. Since 2011, the economy in the Northeastern region has experienced another downturn, accompanied by significant population loss and imbalances within its industrial structure.

With the emergence of localized shrinkage, China’s long-running urbanization under the growth model has reached a turning point. The urban shrinkage has drawn attention from the academia from 2014 onwards. Most studies concerning the post-growth period in Northeast China prioritize spatial changes and slow-paced economic development. However, the fundamental reasons behind the social issues in the northeastern provinces, owing to their relatively underdeveloped status, have received comparatively less scholarly attention. According to Ma and Wu (2005), the consequences of Chinese city restructuring are affected not only by general and global forces but also strongly depend on national and locality-specific factors.

In the past, as a unique organizational structure in China, the danwei system has served as an essential, sometimes the sole instrument to mobilize society and integrate social resources by the state. The overall system is a hierarchical structure characterized by upward dependency and downward control. The de-danwei process witnesses a shift from a singular interest entity to a pluralistic one. In Northeast China, the elements of the danwei system appeared earliest and lasted longest, the power of the danwei system continues to exert impacts on the social development in Northeast China.

Daqing, the largest oil field in China, used to symbolize the most prosperous situation in northeastern China. It underwent an economic boom starting in the 1960s. With the reduction of oil resources and the de-danwei reform, the city entered a period of decline. Due to excessive reliance on petroleum and the lagging effects of the monotonous danwei system, the state-owned companies and bureaucracy still have influences on urban governance and social life. Meanwhile, the Northeast region lagged in its move toward marketization.

The study aims to focus on the de-danwei reform in Daqing, looking deeply into the individual’s living situation – not only spatial but also social and psychological aspects. The main research question is “How have the lagging effects of the danwei system and the de-danwei reform influenced the social development in Daqing since 2000?” The methods for collecting data include document review, informal interviews, and formal in-depth interviews. The interviewees involve the oil field company employees, government officials, self-organized groups as well as neighborhood committee staff.