Social issues in China are wide-ranging, and are a combined result of Chinese economic reforms set in place in the late 1970s, the nation's political and cultural history, and an immense population. Due to the significant number of social problems that have existed throughout the country, China's government has faced difficulty in trying to remedy the issues. Many of these issues are exposed by the Chinese media, while subjects that may contain politically sensitive issues may be censored. Some academics hold that China's fragile social balance, combined with a bubble economy makes China a very unstable country, while others argue China's societal trends have created a balance to sustain itself.
According to Professor Jianrong, official statistics show the number of recorded incidents of mass unrest are "boiling ... to the point of explosion". They have risen from 8,709 in 1993 to more than 90,000 in each of 2007 through 2009. Reasons cited include an aggrieved class of dispossessed migrants and unemployed workers, a deep loss of faith in the system among many Chinese and a weakening in the traditional means of state control.
Professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing University of Technology said corruption, state monopolies, the yawning wealth gap and the rising cost of housing, education and medical care all contribute significantly to unrest. He said land seizures and the widening wealth gap were the two top factors: Since the beginning of Deng Xiaoping's reforms in 1979, the disparity between the urban and rural populations has risen from 2.56:1 in 1978 to 3.33:1 in 2009. Urban income in 1978 was 343 yuan whilst rural income stood at 134 yuan; in 2009, the corresponding figures were 17,175 yuan and 5,153 yuan respectively. Despite the overall increase in urban income, unemployment, unpaid wages and police misconduct are sources of grievances.
Since the economic reforms in China began, income inequality has increased significantly. The Gini Coefficient, an income distribution gauge, has worsened from 0.3 back in 1986 to 0.42 in 2011,. Poverty researchers recognize anything above 0.4 as potentially socially destabilizing.
The growing wealth gap can be seen as a byproduct of China's economic and social development policies. The adverse effects of having a widening inequity between the rich and the poor include social and political instability, discrimination in access to areas such as public health, education, pensions and unequal opportunities for the Chinese people. It is important to note that the inequality in income in China can also be seen as a rural-urban income gap especially with the widely criticized social development policy, the Hukou (household registration) System in place. Market income – mainly wages – has been the driving factor in shaping urban income inequality since the economic reforms in China while the widening rural-urban income gap is due to low salaries for employees and migrants in many companies coupled with rapidly growing profits for the management of State-owned enterprises, real estate developers and some private companies. The urban per capita net income stood at 17,175 yuan ($2,525) in 2009, in contrast to 5,153 yuan in the countryside, with the urban-to-rural income ratio being 3.33:1, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.
The Hukou System has been long seen as an institutionalized source of inequality and disparity among the population and source of population control seen a deterrence factor for rural citizens to seek a higher standard of living in the cities as rural citizens will be denied access to urban housing and education for their children. It is also seen as a legacy of the dualistic economy, serving as a highly effective measure of limiting urban migration.
Employment distribution has been an important issue for the Chinese Government ever since it began initiating reforms. The previous state-led system of employment has been restructured to accommodate the market economy. Its negative effects include the massive layoffs and the cracks to the household registration system, which sent many rural Chinese to seek employment in the cities. These factors gave rise to the competitive labor force and unemployment. Employment levels differ from region to region, with stronger concentrations of unemployment in the interior.
The unemployment trend is attributed in part to the efforts of the Chinese Government to make its SOEs (State Owned Enterprises), which had a redundancy rate at an estimated 25-30% in 1999, more efficient. On the other hand, as of late 2011, the heavily industrialized coastal areas and cities are in fact experiencing an employment shortage due to the runaway growth of the economy. Guangdong province alone needs at least 1 million workers to cover the shortage. It is important to note, however, that unemployment elsewhere causes millions to leave home in the rural areas. By the end of 2009, for instance, 120 million workers, who lost their jobs due to the global economic crisis that affected China's manufacturing industry, trooped to areas such as Guangdong to find better opportunities. The government's recent response to the unemployment problem has been viewed favorably because of a shift in perspective. Today, the state approaches the issue, not as a political problem but a socio-economic problem that require socio-economic solutions.
There are also related social problems to unemployment. These include the fact that the country's social insurance system is considered within the primitive stage of development, exposing employees to further problems in cases when the government allows the companies they work for to be liquidated.
Main article: Crime in the People's Republic of China
Since the establishment of the Chinese constitution, gender equality gained unprecedented importance for the Chinese state. Their efforts were focused towards extending women’s rights politically, economically, culturally and socially. For example, throughout the past few decades China integrated a series of laws and programs forbidding sex-selective abortions, protecting mothers' rights, improving the livelihood of girls, and criminalizing discriminatory employer practices. However, despite being a pillar of their constitution, gender equality failed to translate as effectively in practice. In multiple sectors of Chinese society women still face discrimination. First, the employment sector reveals several mechanisms disadvantaging women from an equal position in the work force. Notably, the rising wage gap, the reproduction of stereotypes in job opportunities, the confinement of women to lower paid posts, and the unfair practices of penalizing women for motherhood duties. The gender wage gap remains a tough struggle for China to conquer, with studies showing its continued rise rather than its decline– especially amongst lower income groups. This is partly due to the restricted employment opportunities offered to women– notably, their limitation to lower level administrative and sales jobs–, and to their greater lack of education. Additionally, while men are hired for their experience, women are employed for their youth, height, and attractiveness; consequently, further limiting them to stereotypical career choices. Furthermore, despite it being illegal, employers refuse to recruit women to avoid child bearing costs, or even fire women over their "inefficiency" during pregnancies. Similarly, the family sector reveals countless instances of discrimination against women in China. For starters, China still suffers from excess female child mortality, as a result of the one child policy and sex-selective abortions, which favor sons over daughters. Although the practice is illegal, sons provide a greater cultural and economic advantage for Chinese families: they carry the family lineage, they support parents in old-age, and they generally dominate the family power structure. Additionally, even when daughters are born, they still face gender inequalities. Using Engel's curve, scholars measured the extent to which food shares per family rise during a male versus a female birth, and found that they increase significantly more for sons than daughters; thus, signaling the family's greater care and importance for male than female offsprings. The discrimination of women continues to be an important social issue for China to overcome, and is continuously affected by cultural, political, and economic factors.
Culturally, Confucianism has had an important impact in establishing women as "subservient", and men as dominant patriarchal figures. Politically, since the establishment of communist China, women have become valued as equals through the constitution. Economically, however, reforms have weakened the state's presence in the market, and consequently, also weakened their protection over women's rights. Thus, while political attempts have been made to empower women, cultural and economic traditions fuel gender discrimination in China. However, while many authors highlight the evidence for gender inequality, other scholars find opposite results claiming that Chinese society does not favor men. These contradicting claims are likely due to the complex nature of measuring gender discrimination; specifically, not accounting for factors such as: location, sector, or biological differences.
Lastly, Chinese society has a loud community of women's rights and feminist activists fighting against gender inequalities. Feminists in China speak out on issues of violence against women, employment inequalities, and discriminatory Chinese traditions and policies. Despite Chinese censorship laws, activists remain motivated to challenge gender discrimination, by relying on online social protests. For instance, in 2018 more than 30 million Chinese citizens participated in the #MeToo movement on social media platforms in order to raise awareness against sexual harassment. Thus, the internet has become an important tool for Chinese society to fight against gender discrimination, and eradicate this social issue.