The Political Economy of the Chinese Coal Industry: Black Gold and Blood-Stained Coal
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Coal mining is one of China’s largest industries, and provides an excellent case study through which to consider the broader issues of China’s transition from socialism to capitalism, focussing on the shift to a market economy, the rise of rural industry and the situation of China’s working class.
Coal was one of the pillars of the planned economy but, the author argues, its shift to market-based operations has been protracted and difficult, particularly in moving from the artificially low prices of the planned economy to market prescribed prices - a change that had a major impact on the industry’s financial performance. The book goes on to considers the growth of small rural coal mines as part of the Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs) programme; these small mines have brought prosperity to areas where small manufacturing enterprises are not competitive, but at the same time have been the cause of many social and environmental problems. It also examines the situation of coal miners - arguably one the most vulnerable segments of the Chinese working class - under socialism and under capitalism, paying particular attention to the issue of work safety and coal mine disasters. The book provides a comprehensive and coherent treatment of these issues from the establishment of the People’s Republic up to 2010.
but a more rapid growth of rural enterprises. The TVMs were important energy suppliers at national and especially local levels and contributed to increasing incomes in many inland areas. In this period, on the whole, they supplied markets that had previously not existed or had not been adequately supplied. However, TVMs also exemplified the downsides of the development model. Labour conditions in most TVEs were much inferior to those in SOEs, and the death toll from mining disasters in TVMs led
down by the plethora of new rural enterprises, which also bid up the prices of previously cheap raw materials (Naughton 1992; Wedeman 2003). In contrast, coal prices were kept low in the planned economy and barely, if at all, covered the marginal cost of production assuming modern technology and safety standards. Therefore, the coal industry pressed for an increase in prices. The state, however, feared general inflation, while consuming industries and interests lobbied to protect the rents they
rural exposure to indoor air pollution from domestic biomass and coal burning across China’, Science of the Total Environment, 377.1: 12–26. MGB: Meitan gongye bu (1995a) ‘Jiushi niandai zhong hou qi woguo meitan shichang jiben zoushi ji duice, shang’, Meitan jingji yanjiu, 1: 4–8. MGB: Meitan gongye bu (1995b) ‘Meitan gongye bu guanyu yinfa “Meitan gongye qiye zhigong shangwang shigu baogao he tongji guiding” (shixing) de tongzhi’, 14 Feburary, at
around 270,000 (Chesneaux 1968: 42; ZJMS 1990: 288). The two giant complexes of Kailuan and Fushun, with over 40,000 workers each, were among the largest employers in the country (Wright 1984: 24). After 1949, employment in coal mining increased rapidly and relatively steadily for most of the period up to the mid-1990s (with the exception of the post-Leap readjustment). Employment then declined, at least for a time. Between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, declining employment reflected
the end of the 1990s some foresaw a bright future for the industry as the economy grew (ZMB 22 January 1998: 3). Coal prices fell over a long period from the beginning of 1996. Although official figures for ex-mine prices show a fall of only just over 10 per cent nationally between 1997 and 2000, at a time when other prices were also falling (ZTN 2010: 9-11), this almost certainly understates the situation. Figures for FOB prices in Qinhuangdao show a decline of around one-third between 1996 and