Internal migration and socio-economic changes in rural China

Sandra Constantin, University of Geneva

Since 1978 the reforms and the relative liberalization of the economy (改革开放, gaige kaifang) have given way to new individual ambitions in Chinese society. Despite structural constraints to population geographical mobility, internal migration has reached unprecedented levels in modern China. Officially, more than 20% of the rural population, nearly 220 million « peasants », live intermittently between town and countryside (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2010) doing work that their original status does not entitle them to do. This social mobility is still strictly controlled by the hukou system. A resident permit established in 1955 by the Central government in order to divide the population into two categories: urban “citizens” and rural “citizens" (Kam Wing Chan, 1999 and 2008 and Dorothy Solinger, 1999 and 2006). This communication proposal is based on a qualitative field research conducted in 2010 in Danian (大年), a village located in north of Guangxi (广西) province. In this communication I will adopt an approach « from the bottom » to analyse the effects of macro-socioeconomic changes coming from the State (the reforms and the relative liberalization of the economy) on the life course of rural citizens in China (micro). I will first show that migration has become the most popular means for individuals, family groups and especially for women, in rural areas in general and in Danian in particular, to increase their revenue and achieve their objectives inside the existing social structures and the institutional framework in which they develop (Giele Janet and Glen H. Eder Jr., 1998). Then, I will illustrate through the Danian village case study the role played by migration in socio-economic changes and development of rural areas in contemporary China.

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Presented in Session 44: Rural to urban migration 2