Chinese Migration

27 Feb

During the year of 2009 rural-urban migration accounted for 11% of the total population of China, which is 145 million people (Migration Information, 2012). This figure could be even larger as some workers are hard to trace i.e. the informal economy. The urban population of China has increased over 416% between 1952-1997. According to experts this is the largest migration of people from urban to city to have ever occurred.

            The main reasons for this urban migration is that the Chinese government strongly believe that the more people in urban areas will result in greater national GDP. The employment in rural areas in China is mainly in agriculture and life is difficult and somewhere where the new generation wants to escape.

            Although in the wide scheme of things the promotion of migration has benefitted China economically as a whole, individually the migrators are becoming younger and younger and less educated. The National Bureau of Statistics calculated that children born after 1990 their average age of migration is 17.2 years old. Therefore the teenagers have not completed education and are moving to a city with low expertise and so find themselves with low bargaining power. Interestingly in a survey conducted by the Migration Information Office, 2012, the most frequent answer to why Chinese migrants left was that they were tired of school. As a result they settle in poorly paid jobs and happiness is often reported as reduced. A string of 13 suicides in Shenzhen within a factory owned by Foxconn Technology Group is evidence of this. Crime rates have also increased, in 2012 it was estimated that a 1/3 of urban crimes were related in some way to urban migration.

            Therefore I query whether urban migration is the best policy.



Beall, J., Guha-Khasnobis, B and Kanbur, R (2012). Urbanization and Development in Asia. New York: Oxford University Press.


Hu, X. (2012). China’s Young Rural-to-Urban Migrants: In Search of Fortune, Happiness, and Independence. Available: Last accessed 25th February 2013.


Wingfield-Hayes, R. (2006). China’s rural millions left behind. Available: Last accessed 25th February 2013.




4 Responses to “Chinese Migration”

  1. ags2g09 February 28, 2013 at 2:16 am #

    Since the beginning of Chinese economic reform, and the rapid urbanisation that occurred as a result, Chinese migration figures have indeed presented interesting reading. A recent report in The Economist published the quite remarkable statistic that of the 1.8 billion mobile phones shipped around the world last year, around 50% of them were manufactured in Guangdong – the area of China that has seen the largest net migration since 1980. Migration within China’s borders, then, does not only affect Chinese economy – higher production levels in China mean more products can reach the rest of the world and other powerful economies are affected as a result.

    The question regarding whether migration is a positive thing is one that can perhaps be answered through a standard cost/benefit analysis. This article is helpful in providing some of the costs: migration does indeed heighten crime and safety concerns, and the academic standard of migrants could certainly be argued to be falling, what with a survey conducted by the International Labour Office informing us that a mammoth 83% of all migrants have only completed nine years of education or less. In addition to this, migration doubtlessly contributes to overpopulation in Chinese cities, in turn worsening the continuing Chinese problems with pollution and urban environmental degradation, as well as limiting access to local healthcare, education systems and workplace protection.

    However, the positives of migration also cannot be ignored. Glyn Ford has pointed to an increased supply of labour in urban areas as a key factor in the reduction of poverty, since more money is being paid to previously poorer individuals. Some of this income will be remitted back to families of the migrant worker still resident in the rural areas, meaning that it is not only in the urban framework that quality of life is improved. The previous paragraph commented on limited access to healthcare and education programmes – it might be conversely argued that migrant workers can gain access to much better systems than are available in their rural homeland. The same type of response might also be articulated with regard to the lesser academic standard of migrants – these workers can expose themselves to increased levels of new, applied knowledge specific to the trade in which they choose to work. It might also be true to argue that more migrants increasing urban populations inherently creates a higher demand for services, further increasing rates of employment.

    In any case, the perceived attractiveness of migration is clearly very strong. Migration levels remain high despite ‘migrant workers… being subjected to long, overtime hours, poor or unsafe working conditions and frequently [being] owed back wages by employers’ (taken from the China Labour Bulletin). Chinese administrative services, such as the Household Registration System, make it difficult for migrants (forming what has become known as the ‘floating population’) to seek any sort of legal redress against these sorts of issues – yet migration is still on the rise. It would seem that, for many members of the Chinese public, the positives of migration outweigh the negatives. Perhaps other large world economies would say the same.

  2. de1g11 March 1, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    An interesting article that seems to suggest their needs to be research into the relationship between social factors and Migration. Do the young individuals leaving see themselves as trying to escape the countryside or are they seeing it as leaving to obtain better opportunities.

    The role of the migration policy undoubtedly has an effect but its the individuals that migrate that need to be possibly surveyed to truly understand the situation on the ground.

  3. timhaythorne March 4, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    I think one of the main drawbacks to this pattern of mass migration, as stated above, is the face that it is reducing the levels of education attained by youths across rural China.

    If China are to try and balance pressing issues such as the ageing population and stagnating economic growth, they must first ensure that sufficient numbers of the population are acquiring 15 or more years of education. In a country already abundant in unskilled labour, to complement the transition from labour intensive to capital intensive industries, the numbers of semi-skilled and skilled labourers must increase. If too many settle for low-wage unskilled jobs, then support for families with 4 or more members out of work (retired) will be stripped to the bone.

    However, more encouragingly, figures for studying abroad have reach all time highs. As the article below claims, the pursuit of higher education abroad may be sufficient to drive Chinas economic growth in to the next decade or so, improving both remittance and domestic growth as graduates return home. The drawback here, though, is the huge costs incurred by the upper and middle class families who can afford such a luxury, and this must be regarded as an opportunity cost with regard to domestic education.

  4. jk10g11 May 15, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Although this article raises a few very good and important points it is equally necessary to show that it is not all doom and gloom and that China is in fact aware of the problem that is posed by migrant workers and their abuse as cheap labour force.

    In recent years and months there has been a counter movement of migrant workers in fact leaving the city to work in a humbler surrounding that offers them and their children better prospects. There are a lot of inland cities that are currently thriving and these cities are considered the ideal space to develop. One of those thriving cities is Changsha, the capital of Hunan, which has become the centre of entertainment industry in recent years.
    This has also been aided by the government, who provide stimulus packages of inland cities and industries to ensure the development of these areas. Additionally, this oiption is more helpful for migrant workers, who do not want to abandon their families for the sake of work.

    But due to these rapid developments in the inland cities, many migrant workers returning home, find themselves yet again surrounded by high rises and challenging situation to live. The issue of the migration workers is therefore not solved, but just ‘outsourced’. There is still not enough done by the government to ensure that the standard of living is actually going to improve. Neither is there any change concerning the migration policies, which are especially harsh on migrant children.

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