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  • Joyce Ren

Rural-Urban Migration Encouraged by Governmental Policies

Updated: Jun 25, 2020


It is estimated that more than 250 million Chinese citizens, which equates to two-thirds of America’s population, migrate to the cities each year. Urban regions undoubtedly attract millions of rural residences for various reasons, from abundant work opportunities to high incomes to booming industries. But how are such immense numbers of people able to migrate from the countryside to the city yearly?


Several complex reasons allow this movement to occur, and while there may be indirect factors influencing the circumstances of rural-urban migration, governmental policies are undeniably part of the cause.



The Hukou System

In 1958, a household registration system known as Hukou was established by the central government in China. It acted as a domestic passport, provided the key basis for indicating identity, citizenship, and proof of official status and was closely associated with social welfare benefits.

Hukou was implemented to regulate population distribution and limit internal migration from rural to urban areas, as well as to maintain social stability throughout these places. It ultimately classified each individual as a citizen of either the countryside or city, which brought those of rural areas to a disadvantage by making it difficult to find good opportunities within their limits and even harder for migration to take place.



Policy Reforms


However, roughly 20 years later, many economic reforms occurred. The Hukou system was resurfacing as problematic; not only was it often discriminatory but also an impediment to

urbanization. It restricted movement of labor and provided certain vital services to urban residences that were not equally given to those of rural areas, such as healthcare, access to higher paying jobs and better education due to their lack of resources.


Thus, during the 1980s, in response to the demands of rural workers and in hopes of encouraging urbanization, a policy was devised to relax the Hukou system. Finally workers in the countryside could acquire a new, foreign freedom of mobility and travel to the city where greater opportunities awaited them.

The loosening of this policy alone motivated many young rural residents to move to the city after finishing highschool or even middle school, as well as adults seeking to follow their jobs to urban areas. Many did not feel the need to continue paying for schooling when there were high-paying jobs elsewhere. In fact, an official survey conducted in 2004 showed that 45 percent of migrants were between the ages of 16 and 25, and only 16 percent were over 40.



A Booming Economy


However, following the reforms of the Hukou system, China began to receive tremendous growth in their economy partly as a result of several refined policies imposed in the late 1980s. As the economy boomed substantially, so did the cities. Incomes increased and available jobs became abundant in urban regions. Large investments were directed towards the manufacturing industry in the East, its new sector accumulating demands for cheap labor.


All of these factors ultimately accounted for the great appeal of moving to the city towards rural residences and farmers, the majority of which were young, poorly educated, and highly mobile. According to Boxun, China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the rural migrant worker population skyrocketed from roughly 30 million in 1989 to more than 140 million in 2008.



Impacts of Migration


Because internal migrants from rural to urban regions are young adults who cannot afford to bring their child with them (as well as pay for education in the city), many villages in the countryside are populated with a majority of left-behind elderly and young children, rarely individuals in between. Kids are commonly left with a caregiver, grandparents, or other relatives to be taken care of for a large part of their childhood while their parents work in the city.

The absence of their parents can result in poor development and has proven to have detrimental impacts on their nutrition, education, mental health, and overall well-being. To learn more about the effects of parental migration on early development of children in rural China, visit our blog discussing it here.


To conclude, internal migration from rural to urban areas in China continues to rapidly ascend, primarily in recent years. While the reasons behind the decision to move to the city can be interpreted, many forget about the reformation of governmental policies that allowed such immense urbanization to accumulate.

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