Internal migration in China


Being aware that due to space and time needs a short article can’t properly analyse a huge and complex phenomenon as migration and its consequences over China, however, it is interesting to have a little glance over one of the key factors of currently China superpower status: internal migration.

Internal migration indeed it is one of the beginning steps needed to switch from an agricultural-rural society to an industrialized one.

For this purpose, here you can read part of an Australian Geography Teachers Association paper on this issue.

“In China, there is a clear pattern of internal migration from the rural areas to the urban areas and, with the exception of Xinjiang (in the extreme west), from the central provinces to the eastern provinces.

Chinese internal migration has been the biggest movement of people anywhere on earth in the last 100 years. It is estimated that China has over 150 million official internal migrants.

People migrate to improve their lifestyles and because they are encouraged to do so by their government. In China many more people want to migrate within the nation than the government will allow.

Impacts of migration

When populations migrate, there is a changed demand on infrastructure in both the place they emigrate from and the place they immigrate to. There are shifts in demands for roads, hospitals, doctors, amusement parks, schools, public transport, housing, child care, power generation, shops, police, telephones and employment. Chinese are attempting to plan the growth of their major cities and so have laws which limit internal migration.

Rural-urban divide in China

Why, then, is there such a pull to the cities in China?

Life is better in cities. Differences in living standards between rural and urban China are so large that the migration will continue to be seen as a solution for many people. In almost every measurable aspect of life it is better to live in a Chinese city than in the country:

1) life expectancy is higher in cities than in rural areas.

2) 34% of rural children under one year of age die compared to only 14% in the


3) 14% of children in rural areas are malnourished compared to only 3% in cities.

4) annual household income in the rural areas is almost half that of the cities.

5) ownership of cars, televisions, computers and white goods (for example, washing

machines, refrigerators, clothes dryers) is much less in the rural areas.

  • illiteracy is much higher in the countryside.
  • few rural people are able to be educated beyond high school and those who look

to a university education for their children are desperate to move to cities.

Conditions in rural areas

The update of modern farming methods across China has also resulted in a massive oversupply of workers. Millions of people in the country districts are either unemployed or (more commonly) underemployed. Lacking work at home, and unable to increase their income, they look to migration to the cities as an answer.

Differences between provinces

Across China there are significant differences between provinces, and as a general rule, the further from the east the greater the rates of health problems, illiteracy, unemployment and poor access to electricity and communications.

There has been a mass migration from the central provinces to those on the east coast. The eastern provinces host the largest cities and offer opportunities for employment in factories which produce goods for export to the rest of the world.”

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