With the implementation of economic reforms in China from 1979 came the abolition of the "iron rice-bowl", the social and employment guarantees underpinning communist rule in Maoist China. This study analyses changes in the protection of social rights in China since 1979 for the middle-income level of the urban population, based on family interviews and documentary studies. It shows how conditions for employment, housing, social security and education have undergone a complete transformation as a consequence of the transition to a market economy. While the Chinese population has benefited from more freedom of choice and movement for the individual citizen, there is less stable protection of the right to work, health care, housing and education. Moreover, channels of popular participation in the decision-making process remain fragile and knowledge of complaints mechanisms and legal remedies is poor.