The Urbanization and Migration in China  

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Urbanization in China  

Urbanization is an inevitable trend worldwide. It’s not simply the process of changing the countryside to cities but also a process of economic structure upgrading and resource reconfiguration. Before the “Chinese Economic Reform”, which started in 1978, China is a typical agricultural country. Non-urban areas, basically farmlands, occupied over 80% of the Chinese region, with around 90% of the whole population are farmers (data from the Statistical Year Book of China). However, due to the primitive farming technology at that time, the efficiency of the agricultural economy is too low to be the main productive force for supporting a big country like China. In addition to the unwise suing of the land resources in China, the labor force has not been developed at all. Farmlands were equally assigned to every family but those lands were not so big that need every family members to work on, just like what the article “The Landless Landlords” described, “Rather than working together with an entire production team on communal land, each family received one mu (approximately one-sixth of an acre) per person to farm and one plot per household on which to build a homestead.” Crops need time to grow, and their harvest largely depends on the weather. And even though, farmers are lucky enough to have a great harvest every year, their standard of living never exceed “can eat enough”. Those farmers, who made up the largest group of Chinese society, have time and desire to work for a better life but there was no job for them except cultivation.

In 1978, the Economic Reform officially promoted by Deng Xiaoping. The original land distribution system was abolished in this reform, and local entrepreneurs were allowed to use those lands to develop businesses instead. With China opening its market to the outside world, a large number of foreign companies entered and built factories. The problem of people like farmers unemployed was resolved. As most farmers began their career in those factories and became blue-collar workers, China transformed successfully from an agricultural country to a manufacturing country. During that period, the most common dressing in China was the blue overalls which stand for the skilled worker. Most of those workers were farmers before, and they were quite proud of themselves for being blue collar workers.

Great achievements have been made by the Chinese Economic Reform. China’s GDP was growing exponentially. As more and more farmlands became factories and tall buildings, a special group of people appeared in this process – landlords. In the reading “The Landless Landlords”, Wang Tao family is a typical representative of this type of person. Wang Tao was a villager in Gan Jia Zhai. When he and Liping got married in 1981, Wang Tao was still a diligent farmer who worked in the farmland straight from early morning to sunset. These days were hard, the whole family’ s assets merely enough to sustain a livelihood. Fortunately, this kind of days didn’t last long. After the government bought a portion of the farmlands held by Wang Tao for the construction of High – Tech Zone, the whole family became “rich” all of sudden. “At a time when wealth wasn’t measured in millions but in ten thousand, it was rather like winning the lottery.” (The Landless Landlord) However, although the urbanization process in China improved farmers’ lives temporarily, it also put those farmers in liminality. What can farmers do without lands? Perhaps youth would choose to be a blue-collar worker for sustainable income in the future but Wang Tao apparently didn’t have this desire. Since he got enough money, and the family could have enough income by renting their extra houses to the workers in the High-Tech Zone, he chose to gamble instead of working. Clearly, Wang Tao’s social status was vague during that time, which means he was in liminal. In liminality, the sense of belonging is very needed, and that’s why Wang Tao addicted to mahjong. In other words, he was not attracted by mahjong, the game itself, but by the communitas which he could gain through playing this game, from the mahjong parlor, or more specifically from other gamblers. This liminal situation basically “ruined” Wang Tao on a personal level. He used to be very hardworking and responsible for the family but he could play mahjong for nearly a week without returning home. This feeling of emptiness also happened on Liping who was in liminality as well. Compare to Wang Tao, the things Liping did for filling the emptiness is much different and “healthier”, “though she typically has nowhere to go and nothing more to do than repeatedly mop the floor, she is always impeccably dressed; it helps her feel good, especially when she remembers the day s when she worked so hard but still wore nothing but homely clothes”. (The Landless Landlord)

There were many landlords like Wang Tao family who could have enough income by just renting their extra houses. Urbanization led to this kind of liminal situation for them. However, this kind of situation is inevitable but also unsustainable. With the continuous extending of urban, the source of income of those landlords would eventually be cut off, and they have to work for survival. In other words, those landlords would leave the liminality at last. Urbanization is inevitable for China’s economic rise. Through urbanization, China’s economic structure upgraded (from agriculture to industry and manufacturing) and resource reconfigured (fully use the rural labor forces) successfully.

Migration in China

“Human migration is the movement by people from one place to another with the intentions of settling, permanently or temporarily in a new location.” (Wikipedia). China’s population migration is the main consequence of large-scale urbanization. According to the data of the Statistical Year Book of China, the urbanization rate has increased by 13.42% within ten years, from 2006. At the same time, the urban population has grown from 459 million in the year 2000 to 577 million in the year 2006, which is about 20 million new people annually. Even though the urban population increased so fast, not everyone can be “citizen”. Due to household registration China conducts, it’s not easy for rural residents to get city household registrations and be citizens officially. Especially for the megacities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, the transformation would be even harder. Therefore, for most of China’s rural poor like Qin’s parents, who had no choice but left home to find work in Guangzhou in order to improve family’s life, have to go back home all the way through half of China for seeing their children who live with the grandma in a village. When this kind of individual migrations come up simultaneously, a unique migration phenomenon, “Chunyun”, happens.

Migration itself is a liminoid situation. During the process of migration, people’ s social status is vague temporarily. Chaos and disorders usually take place in such liminoid situation like “Chunyun”. “Chunyun”, also called the “Spring Festival Travel Rush”, is a phenomenon of large-scale human migration, which caused high traffic pressures, that occurred in China before and after the Lunar New Year.

In that period, the whole population flow could involve several billion people, both railways and airplanes are overloaded, and lots of people could barely get a ticket. Even the highways are full of cars, sometimes it may take hours for moving 1 kilometer. The real scene that is showed in “Last Train Home” is unforgettable, crowded and disordered throngs could create variety of dangers. Nonetheless, many people who work in other cities, like Qin and her parents, still choose to join this “fight”. In China, the Spring Festival is the most important festival of the year. Usually, no matter how far away from the family, Chinese people should try to reunite with his family on New Year's Eve for greeting the New Year together. Therefore, in some extends, the existence of “Chunyun” could be attributed to the traditional mind that root in Chinese people. Despite this, urbanization is the main reason for the huge travel rush. The rapid growth and development of cities have led to an uneven distribution of resources in China, which means rural people have to work in cities, otherwise, their low-standard life could never be improved. Xiao Shi in the reading “Nowhere Nanny” is a typical instance. By being a whole –time in her owner Cui’ s family, who lives in the city, Xiao Shi’s live became better since it was unmatchable between the income in the city than in the village. That’s why she would rather leave her own children to work in the city. In other words, if there is no difference in job opportunities and living conditions between urban and countryside, “Chunyun” wouldn’t exist as no one like to work far from family.

Although the urbanization does help Chinese economic growth, some migration issues like “Chunyun” come with it. However, from other aspects, we have to admit that urbanization is an inevitable trend for Chinese development. And currently, since China’s urbanization still on process, I rather believe the issues like “Chunyun” are just a matter of time and will be solved in the future.  

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The Urbanization And Migration In China  . (2021, Mar 18). Retrieved May 30, 2024 , from

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