migration and settlement patterns

migration and settlement patterns
The household registration law (hukou) enacted by the Chinese socialist state in 1958 played the primary role in blocking population movement, especially rural-to-urban labour migration in Mao’s era. Government officials believed that it was necessary to keep the rural population on the farmlands so that they would continue to produce food for those working in industry and would not burden the existing urban infrastructure. Restricting people’s spatial mobility was also seen as key to maintaining social control and political stability. As a result, spontaneous labour migration was largely absent in China from the 1950s to the 1970s. During this period, however, a very different kind of state-directed, politically motivated, ‘reversed’ migration took place. Many skilled urban workers and professionals were urged by the Maoist state to relocate to economically underdeveloped regions, while millions of urban youth were sent down to the countryside to be ‘re-educated’ by the peasants (see xiafang, xiaxiang).
With rapid commercialization, a booming urban economy, the influx of foreign capital, and relaxed state migration policy, there have been several large waves of mass labour migration in the post-Mao reform era. Over 100 million Chinese farmers have poured into the cities to look for jobs and small business opportunities. This large mobile population is known as ‘the floating population’ (liudong renkou); and its members are often called ‘peasant workers’ (mingong), or ‘working brothers’ (dagongzai) and ‘working sisters’ (dagongmei). The vast majority of these rural transients are temporary or seasonal menial workers who have nothing but their labour to sell; the rest of them are small independent entrepreneurs in family-based businesses. Migrants today are required to register with local authorities and obtain temporary resident status, but they are treated as second-class citizens and can be driven out of the city whenever officials deem necessary. While most rural migrants move from place to place frequently in response to the unpredictable job market demand, some have also formed their own unofficial settlements on the outskirts of Chinese cities based on their common local place of origin. Such settlements are usually named by urbanites as ‘villages’ after the provincial origin of the migrants living there.
The largest and best-developed one is the so-called ‘Zhejiangcun’ in Beijing, created by migrant entrepreneurs and merchants from rural Wenzhou in Zhejiang province. Not only did Wenzhou migrants build their own housing and permanent market buildings for garment production and trade but they also developed a sense of group solidarity and a nascent community leadership. At its peak, there were about 100,000 migrants living and working in this settlement. Yet authorities and urbanites often regard such unofficial migrant communities as hotbeds for crime and a threat to state regulatory power. As a result, there have been periodical government campaigns to clean out migrant settlements in the cities, but migrants persistently come back to stay and resume their economic activities after each political tornado ends.
Gaetano, Arianne and Jacka, Tamara (eds) (2004). On the Move: Women and Rural—Urban Migration in Contemporary China. New York: Columbia University Press.
Li, Zhang (2001). Strangers in the City: Reconfigurations of Space, Power, and Social Networks within China’s Floating Population. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Solinger, Dorothy (1999). Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logic of the Market. Berkeley: University of California Press.
——(2002). ‘The Floating Population in the Cities: Markets, Migration, and the Prospects of Citizenship’. In Susan Blum and Lionel Jensen (eds), China Off Center: Mapping the Margins of the Middle Kingdom. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 273–88.
Williams, Philip F. (1998–9). ‘Migrant Laborer Subcultures in Recent Chinese Literature: A Communicative Perspective’. Intercultural Communication Studies 8. 2:153–61.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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