An analysis of urban residents' engagement in underground "Mark Six" in China


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Heng Holly HE


Awarding Institution
Award date2 Oct 2013


Against the backdrop of "to get rich is glorious" in the wake of the rapid economic reform in mainland China over the past three decades, the traditional cultural values and informal social control mechanisms have undergone tremendous changes. On the one hand, a cultural ethos glorifying individual economic success is prevailing across layers of the urban society, coupled with the structural limitations in accessing economic opportunities. On the other hand, the function of social institutions in preventing individuals from deviating from norms is weakening as a result of the radical transformation of the social structure with the introduction of market liberalization. With an increasing exposure to a capitalist lifestyle, underground "Mark Six" (UMS), an illegal lottery in mainland China, has spread swiftly across the country since its emergence in Guangdong in the late 1990s. Touted as a metamorphosed form of Hong Kong "Mark Six", UMS has aroused a betting fever among the residents and generated a series of social problems in China. Regardless of numerous police crackdowns, UMS activities have proliferated rapidly and become a chronic ailment for the Chinese society. Given the social costs and detrimental effects engendered by urban residents' betting in UMS and the ineffectiveness of officially prohibitive measures, this study aimed to investigate the factors for urban residents' engagement in UMS, as a deviant behaviour. This study drew upon Institutional Anomie Theory (IAT), which argued that the pressures to use illegal means to acquire monetary rewards and the weak controls by non-economic social institutions were conducive to the genesis of high levels of crime. It first examined whether the key elements embedded in the dominant cultural values in urban China (i.e., commitment to monetary success, commitment to illegitimate means and their interaction) could contribute to the engagement in UMS. Second, it assessed whether Chinese informal social control mechanisms (i.e., family, education, polity, neighbourhood committees, and homeowners' associations) could prevent the engagement in UMS, and alleviate the effects of the prevalent criminogenic cultural values on the engagement in UMS. Meanwhile, this study was also informed by Social Disorganization Theory (SDT), which argued that the geographical distribution of crime was largely related to the structural characteristics of neighbourhoods. It thus probed the contextual effects of a range of theoretically relevant neighbourhood characteristics (heterogeneity of residents, residential stability, poverty, support from neighbourhood committees, neighbourhood cohesion, disorder, and fear of crime) on the variation of the engagement in UMS across urban residential communities. To achieve the above research goals, this study adopted an integrated analytical model based on IAT and SDT and conducted hierarchical linear analyses by incorporating both community-level data (23 communities) and individual-level data (915 respondents) collected through a survey in the city of Liuzhou in southern China. The survey was supplemented by in-depth interviews with 18 local informants and a 3-year field observation in a local residential community ridden with UMS activities. The main findings were five-fold based on both quantitative and qualitative data. First, the pursuit for monetary success was pervasive among the urban residents, but could not fully predict the engagement in UMS, given additional motives (e.g., seeking entertainment, escaping from boredom, etc.) involved in the betting process. Second, the inclination to adopt illegitimate means could statistically contribute to the engagement in UMS. This finding was further supported by the qualitative data which showed that the structural reality of the limited access to legitimate economic opportunities might precipitate the engagement in UMS. Third, the familial and educational institutions, functioning as the orthodox informal control mechanisms in China, maintained a relatively prominent role in countering the engagement in UMS; while the political institutions could not do so, given that the current political mechanisms in China were ineffective in satisfying citizens' needs. The anti-UMS functions of neighbourhood committees and homeowners' associations were not fully developed. It might be due to the great challenges the two grassroots institutions faced, when the collectivistic norms in neighbourhoods became less relevant to individuals in urban China. Fourth, inconsistent with some previous studies, the posited reinforcing role of the economic goals and the weak commitment to legitimate means in the cultural values and the postulated moderating roles of all the social institutions in the engagement in UMS were not substantiated in this study. Fifth, the hypothesized contextual effects of poverty, disorder and support from neighbourhood committees were corroborated in the study. In particular, the control function of neighbourhood committees was realized through their contextual impacts on residential communities rather than their direct influences on individuals. Besides, the unexpected results regarding heterogeneity of residents, residential stability, and fear of crime were explainable when considering the functions of social trust and local networks on which the spread of UMS relied. As an original empirical endeavour focusing on urban residents' engagement in UMS, this study delineates an indigenous picture of the cultural values and informal control mechanisms in urban China, and extends the explicability of IAT and SDT in the Chinese context. The results in the study could shed light on the future direction on the research on the factors for the engagement in UMS and have important policy implications for designing effective countermeasures against UMS. The present study concludes that, in order to curb the expansion of UMS activities, not only should the supply chain of sophisticated UMS activities be severed by law-enforcement departments, but also its demand chain should be cut via improving the social control mechanisms in transforming urban China.

    Research areas

  • Gambling, Gambling and crime, Lotteries, China