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The work-unit “danwei” is still existing today. Originated from heavily socialist China, it is the smallest social unit next to the family. Danwei is not only a working environment like a factory it is a small self-sufficient social and political unit, controlling and regulating the life of its members. It had welfare functions like medical care, pension plan, housing and assurance of a life long job.
This concept of danwei is changing in the new and open China and certain characteristics have changed or ceased to exist. Prior to economic reforms before opening to the West, it was an attempt to replicate socialists structures of the communist party within different environments and link each individual to the political party. Functioning as a substitute for a family, each member was tied to its danwei unable to marry anytime, travel or change his environment. As exchange for this loyalty he was provided a safe job that he had for life, food, shelter and more. Productive behavior of individuals was monitored and controlled, violation of rules and norms were strictly punished.
In modern communist China the danwei is responsible for those tasks, which were performed by clans, landowners or officials. Administrative decisions were strictly vertical. Local units were not supposed decide on their own, but pass it to the authority. In philosophical context, this structure of organization is based on legalism, which is the opposite of Confucianism. Both philosophies contributed equally to the traditional administrative state. Unlike Confucianism, Legalism puts an emphasis on a functioning organization structure instead of rituals and customs. The focus lies on efficiency and exercise of power. A good example would be the concept of “collective punishment”. In ancient China five families would sometimes be put together in one unit. If a crime was witnessed but not reported, the whole collective was held accountable. Many of these ancient elements are present until today to ensure that the decision-making process is still centralized and vertical. (Ruprecht, 2001)
Danwei can be a factory, university department or a village community. Since the economic reform of the 70s the danwei is rather an obstacle to economic growth. An alternative social system does not exist while working units begin to dissolve. Some believe it had its origin in the Mao-era others think it stems from Confucian moral and farming life of ancient china.