Politics and Life Changes in a State Socialist Regime: Dual Career Paths into the Urban Chinese Elite, 1949 to 1996

Recent research on career mobility under communism suggests that party membership and education may have had different effects in administrative and professional careers. Using life history data from a nationally representative 1996 survey of urban Chinese adults, we subject this finding to more stringent tests and find even stronger contrasts between career paths. Only recently has college education improved a high school graduate's odds of becoming an elite administrator, while it has always been a virtual prerequisite for a professional position. On the other hand, party membership, always a prerequisite for top administrative posts, has never improved the odds of becoming an elite professional. We also find that professionals rarely become administrators, and vice versa. Differences between career paths have evolved over the decades, but they remain sharp. Thus, China has a hybrid mobility regime in which the loyalty principles of a political machine are combined with, and segregated from, the meritocratic standards of modern professions. Recent changes may reflect a return to generic state socialist practices rejected in the Mao years rather than the influence of an emerging market economy.