4.12.2012 | Von:
Bettina Gransow


Since the 1980s, migration within China has increased considerably along with the economic upturn.[1] It now represents a third of all internal migration worldwide, and is equal to the entirety of international migration.[2]

Marktstand mit VermietungsanzeigenMarket stall with adverts for rooms to let (© Bettina Gransow )

Foreign direct investment and the export orientation of China’s economy, a building boom and the revival of the service sector – all these were factors that led to the creation of a great many new jobs in the large conurbations along the east coast of China. These became favored destinations for rural migrant workers, who were looking for alternative sources of income in the face of meager earnings from agriculture. The policy brief provides an overview of central aspects of rural-urban migration in China. The central question is whether and to what extent it offers an opportunity for the poorer rural population of China. In answer to this question we propose, after a brief introduction to the concept of Chinese internal migration, to begin by discussing the various functions of the hukou system (registered residency status), which is the institutional foundation of Chinese rural-urban migration. We shall follow this up by describing the characteristics of Chinese internal migration, including specific patterns of migration, areas of employment, regional and gender-specific features and the differences between succeeding generations of migrants. On this basis we shall investigate how Chinese migration and urbanization policy has changed in the light of economic and political priorities since the start of the Chinese policy of reform, and what effects this policy is having on the working and living conditions of rural migrant workers in the cities. In considering future trends, we argue, finally, that although the central government has strategies to achieve a migration-based urbanization that allows for the development of a broadly based middle class, there are numerous obstacles in the path of such development, notably the economically motivated interests of the cities at local level and the significant costs that increased migration is expected to entail.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Internal Migration in China – Opportunity or Trap?".


In 1987 there were 15.2 million internal migrants in China (1.5% of the total population). By 2010, their number had risen to 221 million (16.5% of the total population) (Major Figures 2011).
Globally, the number of international migrants rose from 99.8 million in 1980 to an estimated 200 million in 2005 and 214 million in 2010 (Koser 2007, p.5; Guojia 2010, p. 18; IOM 2010, p.29).
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