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Chinese population migration getting irreversible

| 2013-03-19 | Hits:
                     Migrant workers to cities                    nipic During the Chinese New Year holiday period, the country-wide returning to provincial hometowns, and departure thereafter, has become a unique manifestation of population migration and mobility. This grand migration of millions of people has also become also a focal point of societal and scholarly reflection. Ren Yuan, deputy director of the Institute of Population Research at Fudan University, noted that the floating population is more heavily concentrated in urban areas, and that many new population characteristics have arisen since 2000. “(Recent years have seen) a rapid expansion of floating population, which now composes the bulk of the population in some cities. In addition, as more industries are moving to central and Western China, some of the floating population is also migrating in the same direction. Although the majority of the migrating population is still moving to eastern China, the ongoing migration is getting more diversified and multi-directional,” Ren elaborated. Zhang Zhanxin, a fellow at the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, commented, “Today’s population mobility is not merely about the migration of laborers from rural areas, but also about population migration between cities, indicating that China has stepped into a stage of grand mobility and grand migration.” Fang Xiangxin, a fellow at the Hunan Academy of Social Sciences, further observed, “The strata of the migrating population is seeing more diversity and higher education levels.” “The current population migration is becoming irreversible,” said Shen Guanbao, a professor in the department of sociology at Shanghai University. In early 1980s, migrant laborers moved to cities to work for a period of time, but ultimately returned to their hometowns to become farmers again. At that point, migration was reversible. However, today the living conditions in rural areas cannot keep abreast of the needs of the new generation migrant workers, who are unwilling to return to their hometown to be peasants again. This unidirectional migration is the marked feature of Chinese population mobility. Yu Xianzhong, director of the Research Center of Labor and Development at the University of Jinan, noted that population migration is normal for a well-functioning society. He believes population migration from rural to urban areas should be reinforced with institutional guarantees, as it will alleviate tensions arising from population density strains on limited farmland and in so doing increase farmers’ income. Population migration has had some impact on traditional Chinese family values. Problems of “empty nesters” and left-behind children are becoming increasingly common. Shen Guanbao commented that while it can help alleviate poverty in rural areas, population migration has also resulted in the separation of the migrant workers from their families, damaging the family structure. Ren Yuan maintained that population migration could satisfy the needs of both the rural and urban areas and should be perceived from the perspective of the entwinement between the rural and urban areas. The adverse effects of it must be addressed concurrently, he said. “Population migration is the inevitable trend of modern society, and we should not abandon it because of its adverse effects,” noted Fang Xiangxin. He added that making it possible for migrant workers to stay in cities—provided they want and are able to—will be one of the priorities for consideration in the process of urban-rural integration. Fang iterated that the long-time eastward migration is detrimental to structural adjustment of the Chinese economy. In his view, the unidirectional migration could be improved after more expansion of large urban areas into satellite cities and adjacent towns. Zhang Zhanxin advocated more balanced urbanization, suggesting that more opportunities and resources be allocated to middle and small-sized cities. In so doing, more people might be attracted to find jobs in these locations, alleviating the current regional imbalance. Shen Guanbao explained that at present, the wide gap which still exists between rural and urban areas is the primary reason for the grand migration. With increased urbanization throughout the country, the destinations of population migration will become more evenly distributed as gaps in employment, living standard and income are narrowed. Zhang Jie and Zhang Qingli are reporters for Chinese Social Sciences Today. The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No.418, Feb 22,2013. Chinese link:http://www.csstoday.net/Item/50012.aspx Translated by Jiang Hong