Nordic welfare at the World EXPO 2010

Welfare researchers affiliated to Nordic Centres of Excellence have presented the Nordic welfare model to social scientists and the press in China.
 Nordic welfare at the World EXPO 2010
The Chinese Government has ambitions to build a harmonious society with emphasis on the redistribution of welfare and social security. The Nordic model is an inspiration. Nordic welfare research was therefore an important issue at a seminar organised by the Research Council of Norway at the World Expo in Shanghai.

A number of researchers from Reassessing the Nordic welfare model and NCoE The Nordic Welfare State - historical foundations and future challenges (NordWel) attended the seminar in Shanghai on 14 and 15 September.

Nordic welfare - only in Chinese
Stein Kuhnle, a professor with the Department of Comparative Politics at the University of Bergen and professor of Comparative Social Policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin represents NordWel. He has worked closely with China and the famous Fudan University for more than 20 years.

Kuhnle is co-editor of the book "The Nordic Welfare State", published under the auspices of NordWel. The book is expected to be used in teaching, and it may also be of interest to research institutions and think tanks in China. Chinese media has also shown an interest in the book, which currently is available in Chinese only. It is the first time that such a wide presentation of the Nordic model is available in Chinese.

According to Kuhnle, the Chinese have returned to the more than 2000 year old Chinese term describing a harmonious society where people in general live good lives - Xiaokang.

So far, several hundred million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, but many still lag behind. The vision of the Chinese government towards 2020 is that everyone shall be able to take part in the formidable material growth.

China has experienced an economic growth unparalleled in history.

- But there are also immense challenges. The country has experienced an economic growth unparalleled in history, but it has led to increasing inequality between ethnic groups, particularly between central areas and remote districts, and between the eastern and western parts of the country.

It is not surprising that an economic miracle also has social costs. This is particularly true for the many migrants from the countryside looking for work in the large cities. Chinese authorities are, however, very engaged in working for a more just society, says Kuhnle.

Press interest
Both social scientists and the press showed a great interest in Nordic welfare at the EXPO seminar in Shanghai.

A total of 10 journalists visited the seminar held on 14 and 15 September. Several of these represented the major media houses in Shanghai.

The rest of the world is also showing an increased interest in the Nordic model. China is no exception. Many Chinese delegations travel to the Nordic countries to study various aspects of our societies. Research collaboration has also accelerated.

Kuhnle explains how the interest in studying the Nordic model has picked up considerably at Fudan University, home to the Nordic Centre for Chinese and Nordic students. The centre celebrated its 15-year anniversary last May.

- Since 1995, the centre has held courses in Nordic politics on a regular basis. In the beginning, the interest to study mixed market economy was rather low. At that time, the students were more interested in the role of the market than in government policy.
But gradually the authorities, researchers and students have become more interested in a socially active state, in order to deal with many of the problems that China is struggling with. It is therefore natural to look to the North, where we have achieved a relatively even income distribution and welfare schemes for the whole population, combined with a generally healthy and stable social and economic development, Kuhnle states.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry is funding the EXPO activities through the CHINOR programme. This was the third and final one in the series of three seminars held during the EXPO.

New Counsellor for Science in Beijing
- Norway has chosen EXPO as a platform to contribute to improved research cooperation between China and Norway. Ever since 1959 we have had an agreement with China for student exchange. Many Chinese students have been to Norway. Now it is important to link together young scientists in collaborative research. Welfare research is a priority both for the Chinese and Norwegian authorities, explains Kari Kveseth, former Chairman of NordForsk. She is about to enter upon her new position as Counsellor for Science at the Norwegian Embassy in Beijing, a position recently established.

- As opposed to the natural sciences, the social sciences are new sciences in China. Social science is about addressing policy issues. It is important to distinguish between research and policy work – because they can easily become intertwined.

Text and photo: Siw Ellen Jakobsen

Main photo: Ka Lin, Professor at Zhejiang University, finds the book ”The Nordic Welfare State” inspirational for social scientists in China.
Photo nr. 2: From the left in front: Stein Kuhnle (NordWel), Anneli Anttonen, Ivar Lødemel, Axel W. Pedersen (Reasses)
Photo nr. 3: The pavilion at EXPO 2010
Photo nr. 4: Kari Kveseth, new Counsellor for Science in Beijing
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