Urban to Rural Migration In China

2 Mar


Since the dissolution of the housing restrictions, known as the ‘hukou’ system, China has seen large increases of migration within its borders, primarily from rural to urban. A sharp increase in migrants within the 1990’s due to decreased employment within TVE’s and increased agricultural labour surplus (Démurger et al, 2009) meant  132 million rural workers were found to work in cities in 2006 (National Bureau of Statistics, 2007). Popular sayings quote that 1 in every 5 citizens of large cities are migrants.

Notable pull factors to the prosperous eastern coast of China to cities like Shanghai, include increased living conditions, higher standards of living, reliable water supply and less precarious wages through employment opportunities. In particular, these migrants seek employment within construction, manufacturing, rubbish collections, catering and transportation services. Notable social and economic challenges are occurring within the rural areas left behind as they decrease in population as young workers moving towards cities leave an ageing population behind, thus stagnating economic growth within rural communities as agricultural production decreases. Large cities like Shanghai are also left crippled with strained resources, transport and burgeoning criminal activity. Other aspects concerning health and the transmittance of contagious diseases are also common with large scale migration. Some commentaries suggest that these movements are however temporary and that many migrants intend to return to their rural hometowns (Berg, 2007). However, other negatives consequences of migration persist as in 2010, some estimates declared that one-third of urban crimes were related to new-generation migrants (Hu,  2012). This may also highlight enduring stigmas and discrimination against incoming migrant workers.

There is discussion of discrimination and inequality between these migrants and their urban counterparts. Firstly, the migrants are often subject to informal contracting and wages that are often late or illegally processed. As such many migrants work for longer than legally allowed, in tougher jobs that urbanites are less willing to take (Yao,  2001). Socially, the incoming migrants often perceive themselves as second class citizens in contrast to the urban natives of cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai. However, self-rated wellbeing amongst migrants was unusually high, as they experienced higher mental wellness in regards to becoming upwardly mobile financially.

Other reports also suggest that many younger migrant workers are career building, and using smaller jobs as stepping stones for career progression. This goes beyond the simplistic view that migrants select and remain within low level labour and return home. This suggests that migrants may be well adapted to integrating within large metropolises in efforts to forge new lives within urban spaces.



  • Démurger, S., Gurgand, M., Li, S., & Yue, X. (2009). Migrants as second-class workers in urban China? A decomposition analysis. Journal of Comparative Economics37(4), 610-628.


  • Yao, Yang., 2001. Social Exclusion and Economic Discrimination: The Status of Migrants in China’s Coastal Rural Areas. Working Paper No. E2001005. Beijing: China Center for Economic Research, Peking University.


  • National Bureau of Statistics, 2007. Situation of Rural Migration in China in 2006. Internal Research Report No. 18.





One Response to “Urban to Rural Migration In China”

  1. kmp1g13 March 3, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    Rural to urban migration in China could be considered as being similar to migration from Africa to the UK – both groups of immigrants are exposed to false perceptions of what life is like in another area and believe that a better standard of living and quality of life can be achieved by migrating. However, the migrants are usually left disappointed and end up taking the jobs that the locals do not want and are subject to exploitation and discriminiation.

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