Sample Essay on Rural urban migration in China during the reform era


Rural urban migration witnessed in China during the reform era was huge. This has been attributed to the severe poverty in the rural areas and the plenty of opportunity in the urban areas. Hessler (327) points out to the group of young people who have been leaving manor of the Taos in the recent past. He has also outlined how the rapid developments in China have affected lives of people both in the village and at the emerging industrial towns. Internal migration was one of the major aspects that characterized the reform era in China from 1978-2008. This research looks at development of China in the past, and the current status.

In his book, “China in the 21st century: what everyone needs to know”, Jeffrey looks at some of the people who have made major impacts on the history of China, people like Deng Xiaoping, and the policies such as one-child policy and some of the major events from 1978 to date (Jeffrey 73). When Deng Xiaoping assumed power, he ensured that he invested in the country’s agricultural sector to avoid any future occurrence of famine in China as witnessed in the year 1958-1961. His policy of reform and opening caused so many people to migrate to the urban centers where the industrial revolution was already taking place. People like Tao Yarang, Tao Fei and Tao Yufeng moved to these centers to look for work even at a young age, they requested to be trained because life at rural areas was unbearable. (Hessler 326)

This rural urban migration has been seen by scholars as something that was meant to happen with the growth of the economy but the migration can be attributed the differences between the rural dwellers and their counter parts in urban areas. The master of ceremony in the travelling troupe had told the audience of his story. He said that he was born in a poor village where most adults had left to go urban areas to work(Hessler 332) The income earned in the urban area was better compared to wages earned in big plantations in the rural areas. Another reason was the surplus labor that was experienced in the agricultural rural areas. The reforming and opening policy motivated rural dwellers to look for better employment opportunities. Many more migrants (Nong Min Gong) migrated to China with an estimated average of around 5 million Nong min gongs per year. This led to growth in the economy, as the migrants would earn more from the industries compared to the little money they got from their farms. Deng’s policy of “four modernization” which emphasized on technology, agriculture, defense and industry also promoted this rural urban migration as it had given a lot of support to sectors of agriculture, defense, technology and industry (Jeffrey 81). This policy did not go well with some leaders of the democracy wall movement, who proposed that China was in dire need of a “Fifth democracy”. The democracy leader Wei was arrested for this reason and later moved to exile in the United States of America.

The migrants were involved in jobs that required unskilled labor. This was mainly due to their low level of education compared to those who were the initial occupants of towns. Yufeng acknowledges this fact as she is working on making of U-shaped steel bands without a machine (Hessler 329). They were mostly found in industries and in the construction, sectors located mainly within the development zones, and very few of them held any offices. The huge number of migrants to the urban areas did not help much as working conditions became poor and the wages got low because labour supply was higher than demand.

The one-child policy among urban dwellers was seen as a major step in combating poverty through reduced population growth. It also meant that urban dwellers would not be able to provide the huge labor needed by the industries, therefore, the rural dwellers moved to urban areas for work, which translated to continued rural-urban migration. The rapid industrialization in China also means that a lot of land is taken over by industries, which minimizes agricultural activities and results to migration.

Too many migrants from rural areas into the urban centers led to pressure on the available resources and even food supply. Jeffrey states that there was high inflation rate and the income gap was widening (84). The government, therefore, decided to control this migration by using a system known as the Hukou system. One of the reasons was to maintain the income gap, as rural dwellers were expected to remain in their rural areas and provide food supply to the urban dwellers. The Chinese government approved the policy of rational low wage in 1957. This meant that farm produce were to be sold at reduced prices to the urban dwellers at an expense of the poor rural dwellers. This aimed at enabling urban dwellers to save more of their income and invest so that the economy of the country can grow positively.

The Chinese economic development level in 1978 was rated at 14.5%, and this was evident as a result of demand for labor in the urban areas, after the government had started being a little bit tolerant on its Hukou system. The government’s observation led to a huge decrease in the urbanization level in the 1960’s and the return of about 20 million Chinese rural dwellers back to the country side as a result of the great feminine witnessed between 1958-1961. This slowed down urbanization.

From 1978, the government started making some reforms on the Hukou systems after realizing it was not only affecting the migrants negatively but also the economy of the country. All the migrants were living in the development zones, where the entertainment troupes could compete with the sole aim of taping into the small wages of the migrants (Hessler 336). This was initiated by Deng Xiaoping through the policy of reforming and opening (Jeffery 75). Through the household responsibility system, families were contracted to work on given portions of land then sell part of their produce to the government and the surplus sold to other people at a much higher price. This system increased the overall output of the agricultural sector while also improving the income of the families working on the land. This led to increased food supply to the urban areas and motivated the population to go back to the countryside, increasing labor supply in the rural areas.

In 1977, the government started issuing some rural migrants with Hukou registration certificates and provided them with education to enable them acquire necessary skills that were needed for the rapid growing economy. Migrants were only required to meet two things; have a stable or regular income and to have a place of residence that is stable.

In 2003, the government abolished the regulation of taking rural migrants who were homeless and beggars to custody or being deported back to the countryside and in 2004, the government gave an order to remove all directives that would hinder employment of rural migrants in the urban areas. In 2005, the country dropped all regulations that would prohibit rural migrants from owning properties, offices and some job positions. These reforms are from the fact that the government realized that the economy of the whole nation was greatly influenced by these migrants. Their freedom of movement would do the economy a lot of good, yet the Hukou system marginalized and discriminated them. The state had set rules on the maximum number of the migrants who could be hired by any company and at the same time, they were expected to pay to be hired. Coupled with the fact that  some states only allowed for employment of these migrants only after employment of the urban Hukou meant that it was not easy for the a rural Hukou to find himself a stable job.

Once they got into any stable job, the rural Hukou were also discriminated based on wages. They were paid less compared to the urban hukou in the same job group. It has been said that this was never consistent as the wages of initial urban dwellers kept growing yearly while those of the migrants kept decreasing. Yufeng made the U-shaped steel bands, and the pay was too small that for her to gain any reasonable amount, she had to work extra hard and make as many band as possible (Hessler 329). Hessler states that that the works were far from their homes and so entertainment companies like the China mobile and China Unicom targeted them. These companies offered free entertainment since the migrants could obviously not be so ready to spend their hard-earned small pay (Hessler 330). In addition, the rural hukou had to work for more hours compared to the high paid urban dweller. When the acrobatic group came around to entertain people, they acknowledge this when one of them told the workers that they (the troupe) know that workers are tired after the long day, but even with the sixty cents charge as entrance fee, the troupe still had to persuade people to enter the tent. This is a show of how small the earning of the migrants was (Hessler 331). The rural hukou were not entitled to some benefits that were only enjoyed by the urban dwellers, for example, they were not given house allowance, educational boosts, insurance covers.

Another area where discrimination was evidenced was the sector of education. This also affected the hukou system. The rural hukou pay higher fees in the urban areas more than the urban dwellers. They were also required to pay extra fee like support fee so that their children could be allowed to learn together with other children.

Recent reports have estimated that about 44.4% of rural migrants are employed China’s industries within urban towns. The reforms have made these migrants to find jobs in other areas apart from the construction industry. Young migrants have no experience in farming; hence, are going through challenges. These challenges have led even to some incidences of suicide among the new migrants. This is because they are not satisfied with what life has provided them with together with discrimination cases that are still witnessed. Unlike the older migrants who were mainly moving to towns in search of jobs and better pay, nowadays the young migrants are attracted by other reasons apart from the search for jobs, they are attracted by happy life they presume to be present in the urban towns.

Some of the young migrants even move to towns because they do not want to go on with the school system and want to start life on their own. These young people therefore enroll in schools that train on particular skills. Most of these schools are in urban areas and they offer skills that would enable these migrants to secure some form of job later in their lives.

The modern generations also migrate to satisfy their exploration urge, while some of them move to urban areas because of the boring environment at their rural work place. As opposed to the tasking jobs at home, the town jobs are generally light and this has also played a big role in attracting young people to the urban areas.

Those with high level of education are able to find jobs, which earn them good money and are able to pay for most of the family bills. Others with lower education levels end up working in other peoples’ business homes, earning small wages and after sending some amounts home to help their dependants survive, they remain with nothing leading very bad lives.

















Work cited

Hessler Peter. Country driving: A Chinese road trip. New York: Harper Perennial. 2011. Print

Wasserstrom Jeffery. China in the 21st Century; what everyone needs to know. Oxford: Oxford            University press. 2013. Print