4.12.2012 | Von:
Bettina Gransow

Summary and Conclusions

On the whole, Chinese internal migration makes a substantial contribution to the improvement of rural household incomes and to that extent should be seen as an important way out of rural poverty.

KrankenstationThe cities attempt to keep the extra cost of infrastructure and supply systems caused by migration as low as possible. (© Bettina Gransow )
In 2005 the total remittance transfers by migrants amounted to 30 billion US$,[1] which is many times greater than all the official development aid[2] to China (2 billion US$) in the same year. Even though the effect of remittances on rural development is a matter of dispute, as only part of it is put to productive use, this does highlight the contribution that migrants make to poverty reduction and thus illustrates the role played by Chinese internal migration in the politics of development. However, it has also become clear that labor migration has its price: The downsides of the migrant’s life include dangerous and unsafe working conditions, long working hours, no contract of employment, unpaid wages, a high accident rate and the risk of occupational diseases. To these we could add a rudimentary, inadequate insurance system, families separated for long periods of time, inadequate educational opportunities for children and various forms of discrimination in the cities.

Since the start of the 21st century the Chinese government has been reacting to these abuses, in particular the problem of non-payment of wages or excessively low pay. Under pressure from the public, in 2003 the system of detention pending the forcible return of migrants to their home villages was abolished. Institutional reforms regarding social security and the hukou system are aiming to put an end to the dual city/country structure once and for all. These efforts are in conflict with the interests of local governments, city administrations and privileged holders of an urban hukou. The cities, which are responsible for financing the public services, but must share their tax revenue with the central government, attempt to keep the extra cost of infrastructure and supply systems caused by migration as low as possible. The result is that unequal access to scarce public resources like education, health provision and subsidized housing remains unchanged.

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


Murphy (2006), p.5.
Official development aid (ODA)
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