Rural-Urban Migration in China: Temporary Migrants in Search of Permanent Settlement

Beatriz Carrillo


Massive population flows from rural to urban areas since the start of economic reform have had consequences on almost every social, economic and political issue in the People's Republic of China. This paper maps the developments of rural to urban migration in reform era China, explaining the repercussions of the household registration system on migration patterns, the economic and social inclusion of rural migrant workers into urban communities, and the formation of migrant communities based on ethnic ties in some of China's major cities. The paper ends with a discussion of the consequences of both regional and rural-urban inequalities on future population flows, and on the possibilities of social tensions brought by the increasing presence of rural migrants in urban China.


China; Migration

Full Text



'China Further Opens Insurance market', China Daily [Online] (Nov. 23, 2001) Available:

'China Reforms Residence Registration System', China Radio International [Online] Available: [Accessed 1 Nov., 2001]

'Healthy Reform Covers All', Xinhuanet [Online] (Nov. 22, 2001) Available:

'New Socialized Medicare System to Benefit More People', Xinhuanet [Online] (Nov. 22, 2001) Available:

Alba, Richard & Nee, Victor 1997, 'Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration', International Migration Review, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 826-74.

Brettel, Caroline B. 2000 'Theorizing Migration in Anthropology. The Social Construction of Networks, Identities, Communities, and Globalspaces' in Brettel, Caroline B. & Hollifield, James F. (eds.), Migration Theory, Routledge, pp. 97-135.

Chan, Kam Wing & Li Zhang 1999, 'The Hukou System and Rural-Urban Migration in China: Processes and Changes', The China Quarterly, no. 160, pp. 818-55.

Cheng, Tiejun & Selden, Mark 1994, 'The Origins and Social Consequences of China's Hukou System', The China Quarterly, no.139, pp. 644-68.

Chi Fulin 2001, 'WTO Accession Will Accelerate Reforms in China. An Action Plan to Address the Most Pressing Issues', World Bank Transition Newsletter, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 10-12. [Online] Available:

China Statistical Yearbook, 1999.

Croll, Elisabeth J. & Huang Ping 1997, 'Migration For and Against Agriculture in Eight Chinese Villages', The China Quarterly, no. 149, pp. 128-46.

Davin, Delia 1999, Internal Migration in Contemporary China, MacMillan Press.

Eckholm, Erick 2001, 'District in Beijing to Shut Schools for Migrants', New York Times, Oct. 31.

Jutting, Johannes 1999, 'Strengthening Social Security Systems in Rural Areas of Developing Countries' ZEF Discussion Papers on Development Policy, Center for Development Research. [Online] Available:

Keely, Charles B. 2000, 'Demography and International Migration' in Brettel, Caroline B. & Hollifield, James F. (eds.), Migration Theory, Routledge, pp. 43-60.

Lei Guang 2001, 'Reconstituting the Rural-Urban Divide: peasant migration and the rise of 'orderly migration' in contemporary China', Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 10, no. 28, pp. 471-93.

Ma, Laurence J. C. & Biao Xiang 1998, 'Native Place, Migration and the Emergence of Peasant Enclaves in Beijing', The China Quarterly, no. 155, pp. 547-81.

Mallee, Hein 2000, 'Agricultural Labor and Rural Population Mobility: Some Observations' in Loraine A. West and Yaohui Zhao (eds.), Rural Labor Flows in China, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, pp. 34-66.

Mallee, Hein 1998, 'Definitions and Methodology in Chinese Migration Studies' in Bakken, Borge (ed.), Migration in China, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, pp. 107-44.

Murphy, Rachel 2002, How Migrant Labor is Changing Rural China, Cambridge University Press.

Roberts, Kenneth D. & Wei Jinsheng 1999, 'The Floating Population of Shanghai in the Mid-1990's', Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 473-510.

Rozelle, Scott et al. 1999, 'Leaving China's Farms. Survey Results of New Paths and Remaining Hurdles to Rural Migration', The China Quarterly, no. 158, pp. 367-93.

Schmitter Heisler, Barbara 2000, 'The Sociology of Immigration. >From Assimilation to Segmented Integration, from the American Experience to the Global Arena' in Brettel, Caroline B. & Hollifield, James F. (eds.), Migration Theory, Routledge, pp. 77-96.

Solinger, Dorothy J. 1999, Contesting Citizenship in Urban China. Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logic of the Market, University of California Press.

Solinger, Dorothy J. 1995, 'The floating population in the cities: chances for assimilation?', in Davis, Deborah S. et al. (eds.), Urban Spaces in Contemporary China, Cambridge University Press, pp. 113-39.

Song Xiaowu (ed.) 2001, Report on the Reform and Development of China's Social Security System, Renmin University Publishing House.

Taylor, J. Edward 2001, 'Microeconomics of Globalization: Evidence from Mexico, China, El Salvador, and the Galapagos Islands' Report to the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office of The World Bank.

Tong Yi 2003, 'Kidnapping by Police: Custody and Repatriation', China Rights Forum, No. 2.

Wang Shaoguang & Hu Angang 1999, The Political Economy of Uneven Development: The Case of China, M E Sharpe, Armonk, New York.

West, Loraine A. 2000, 'Introduction' in West, Loraine A. & Yaohui Zhao (eds.), Rural Labor Flows in China, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, pp. 1-14.

Woon, Yuen-Fong 1999, 'Labor Migration in the 1990's. Homeward Orientation of Migrants in the Pearl River Delta Region and Its Implications for Interior China', Modern China, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 475-512.

Wu, Harry Xiaoying 1994, 'Rural to Urban Migration in the People's Republic of China', The China Quarterly, no.139, pp. 669-98.

Yang Yao 2001, 'Social Exclusion and Economic Discrimination: The Status of Migrants in China's Coastal Rural Areas', China Center for Economic Research, Working Paper No. E2001005 (April 19).

Zhang, Li 2001, 'Migration and privatization of space and power in late socialist China', American Ethnologist, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 179-205.

Zhang, Xianchu 1998, 'Some Legal and Social Issues Concerning the Rural Labour Migration in China' Unpublished paper.

Zhao Shukai (translated by Andrew Kipnis) 2000, 'Criminality And The Policing Of Migrant Workers', The China Journal, no. 43, pp. 101-10.

Zhao, Yaohui 2000, 'Rural-to-Urban Labor Migration in China: The Past and the Present' in West, Loraine A. & Yaohui Zhao (eds.), Rural Labor Flows in China, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, pp. 15-33.

Zhao, Yaohui 1999, 'Labor Migration and Earnings Differences: The Case of Rural China', Economic Development & Cultural Change, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 767-82.