The "iron rice bowl" is a Chinese idiom which referred to the now abolished system of guaranteed lifetime employment.
After the Communists came to power, all workers and farmers were put under state control.
Their work units controlled every aspect of daily life, including the allocation of housing, food and clothing. They also decided who could marry and when, and who was allowed to have children.
In return, work units would look after their workers for life.
But China's transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy has smashed the old guarantees.
Millions of workers have been laid off as state-run firms have been restructured or shut down.
This has sparked angry protests from their workers, who complain they have been left without the welfare benefits they were once promised.