Does China need labor migration

China's migrant workers and their economic importance

Table of Contents

1. What is China?

2. General overview of the migration situation in China
2.1. Definition and explanation of terms
2.2. Figures on the migration of migrant workers
2.3. The destinations of the migrants
2.4. The hukou system
2.5. The migration and urbanization policy in China

3. Working and living conditions of migrants in China's cities
3.1. The fields of employment and working conditions of migrants
3.2. The housing situation of migrant workers
3.3. The school education of migrant children
3.4. The second generation
3.5. Solutions and an outlook into the future

4. Solutions and an outlook into the future

List of figures and tables

Figure / Table 1: Employment by rural and urban areas

Figure / Table 2: The migration destinations of Chinese labor migrants

Figure / Table 3: The distribution of internal migration in China

Figure / Table 4: The fields of employment of rural migrant workers in China

Figure / Table 5: The segmentation of semi-formal employment

1. What is China?

At the turn of the century, the People's Republic of China achieved a great power role in the world. The high population of 1.4 billion people, the political openness and the social and economic development in recent decades has made China assume a leading role that not only Asia, but also America and Europe must admit to the People's Republic. Thus, social, political and economic decisions have an impact on the rest of the world. Domestic political problems such as population growth, migration and the globalization of the economy also have international consequences. In western countries, China is often associated with inexpensive goods “Made in China”. However, only a few are concerned with why these products can be purchased so cheaply in this country. When China opened up in the 1980s, many farmers saw their opportunity. They left their families behind to travel after work. There was massive rural-urban migration. Because new factories and cities have sprung up on the east coast of the country where work doesn't seem to run out. China's demand for workers has been insatiable, as has people's desire for a better life. But in the cities they are paid poorly and irregularly, work under dangerous conditions, have no accident insurance and no access to medical and social care. The legal gray area also makes them second-class citizens. They are the backbone of China's economy, but many of them live in poverty. Thus the migrant workers are apparently paying the price for the economic miracle of China and are the losers of the boom. But how did it get to the point that China was able to split into two sub-societies, on the one hand the urban one and on the other the rural-peasant one, and the gap between these two groups is getting bigger and bigger? How great is the real importance of migrant workers for the enormous economic growth in China?

In the following work I will deal with the historical background and the current political, economic and social situation of migrant workers. Furthermore, I try to draw a conclusion and give an outlook into the future.

2. General overview of the migration situation in China

2.1. Definition and explanation of terms

Migration is “the relocation of one's place of residence to a certain distance” (Gransow 2000: 184). Temporary migrants are those who stay longer than six months in a place outside their region of origin. Labor migration describes the emigration and immigration of people in order to take up employment other than in their region of origin. (cf. Schnack 2010: 27).

In China, migrant workers are usually referred to as "nongmingong". However, this designation has a more discriminatory meaning, since it means “rural migrant worker” or “peasant worker” in the German translation. They are also called “flowing population”, ie “liudong renkou” or “rural workers in the cities”, translated as “jincheng wugong renyuan” (cf. Schnack 2010: 27). Second generation migrant workers are often called dagongzai and migrant workers are dagongmei, among others. The Chinese term “dagong” means something like “work for the boss” and that the working relationships are regulated by the market. The last syllable "zai" or "mei" is an indication of the respective gender. “Zai” is translated as son and is a common term for male migrant workers and “mei” means little sister and is used for female migrant workers (cf. Ngai / Wanwei 2008: 9).

2.2. Facts and figures on the migration of migrant workers

The exact number of the migrant population is difficult to determine, which is why the temporary residence permit is often used as a guide, as you have to register with the police if you are in the city for more than three days. However, this applies not only to migrant workers, but also to migration for other reasons such as educational migration or moving because of marriage (cf. Gransow 2000: 185). But the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher, since most of the migrant workers are staying illegally in the cities because they would not get the appropriate permit. They avoid statistical counts because they fear that they will be forcibly rejected in the event of official records without the required papers (cf. Liang / Ma 2004: 469). Often language is from a number up to 300 million migrants, but this is only the estimated. In 2000, the Chinese census counted only 140 million internal migrants, of which 80 million migrated outside a district, 60 million within the district and 20 million migrants with permanent residence status (cf. Liang // Ma 2004: 472). The counting becomes confusing, among other things, because different criteria are used. The 1990 census only counts people who live temporarily outside their registered district as migration. In 2000, migration within a district was added (cf. Schnack 2010: 26). Migration usually happens through family or local networks through informal institutions. In the past, it was mostly young men with little education who migrated in line with the family strategy. Today there is a tendency towards family migration (cf. Kaufmann 2011: 19f.).

2.3. The destinations of the migrants

Even at the time of the planned economy, migration to the city was the desire of many rural residents. Nowadays, a large part of the country is drawn to the urban centers of the country. They hope to find a job in the cities with a higher income than in their agricultural work in the countryside. The pursuit of individual freedom is also a reason to leave your home country (cf. Schnack 2010: 119). Furthermore, push factors are a better infrastructure, a large range of leisure activities and childcare (cf. Hartmann 2006: 139).

Figure not included in this excerpt

(cf. Hartmann 2006: 142)

The table shows the number of employees by rural and urban areas for the years 1980 to 2004. It shows once again how employment in the cities is constantly increasing and in the rural areas it is assuming a decreasing tendency in percentage terms. Employment in the city has almost doubled in those twenty-four years.

Figure not included in this excerpt

(see Heilmann 2016: 253)

The table describes the migration destinations of Chinese labor migrants. More than a third are drawn to the small towns. But the cities and provincial capitals are also popular destinations.

Especially the Chinese east coast with the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai and the Yangzi Delta and the Beijing and Tianjin regions, which are considered to be mega-urban areas, attracts migrants. However, some migrants are also drawn to the nearest smaller town (cf. Schnack 2010: 27f.).

Figure not included in this excerpt

(see Gransow 2012: 6)

The figure shows the direction of internal migration in China. The largest migration flow to the coastal regions so far is shown as a red stripe. In addition, there has also been internal migration to the cities in Hubei Province since the recent past, which is marked with a blue stripe in the illustration. The third stream is that to the inland megacities, namely Kunming, Xian, Urumqi and Harbin, which can be found as blue stars on the map. In 2014 the central government presented a national plan for the expansion of small and medium-sized cities. Chinese politics exerts a certain influence on the direction of migration flows and tries to direct them by investing in the west of the country. As well as the effort to limit immigration to the metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin as well as selected provincial capitals. Expensive new urbanization programs are therefore regulated and supported. This opens up new economic growth potential in the subsidized urban centers and more and more jobs are created in typical emigration provinces and thus attract many migrants, which in turn has the synergetic effect that new production facilities are created. (see Heilmann 2016: 252). Meanwhile, a new production structure is being worked on on the coast. A high-value industry with increased productivity is to settle here. However, you need a well-trained workforce for this. In order for the investment in your education to pay off, you have to be employed by a company in the long term, i.e. you need the right to be allowed to live legally in the city and that requires reforms in the hukou system (cf. Lee / Ngai 2010: 249) .

2.4 The Hukou system

In order to be able to understand Chinese internal migration, one must first deal with the inequality between urban and rural areas as well as with the Chinese reporting system, the Hukou system and its development and functional change of great importance.

The Hukou system has been a "system of residence registration" since 1958 (Heilmann 2016: 239), which stipulates the separation into urban and rural households. Restrictions on mobility based on origin and place of residence are a result of this for the residents of China. China is one of the few countries, along with Japan, Vietnam and South and North Korea, in which politics is or has applied the prevention of mobility. This prevented spontaneous rural-urban migration and it controlled the rationing of food and everyday goods, which was typical for a planned economy, as was typical in the People's Republic of China at the time (cf. Gransow 2000: 184). The historical background of this system is the overpopulation of the cities at the time of the founding of the People's Republic of China, as the previous wars drove the rural residents into the cities. The urban infrastructure was unable to cope with the rapidly growing population, so a solution had to be found for the rural refugee population. The Hukou system has determined the resident status based on the mother's place of residence. In the course of this, rural residents were not allowed to move into cities. This also has no access to the city's food supplies. This rationing from the 1950s to 1970s was of particular importance in the Mao era and was an important means of extreme reduction in migration. In addition, the rural population has been denied access to old-age insurance, housing, education and the health sector (cf. Hartmann 2008: 138). These privileges are associated with being part of a danwei. Danwei literally means “unit of work” (cf. Gransow 2007: 346). In return, the rural residents have been allocated arable land. During the land reform from 1949 to 1952, the land was privately assigned, and then in the first half of the 1950s, the land was collectivized. With this soil they should provide for themselves and the townspeople. In addition, it was believed that in a traditional rural family, housing and retirement provision are secured (cf. Hartmann 2006: 138). While the function of allocating food had to be lost in the meantime, the hukou system still fulfills the task of controlling rural-urban migration with restrictions (cf. Gransow 2000: 184).

After the 1970s, the Chinese Communist Party needed new methods to boost the country's economic strength. The task has been to reform the socialist planned economy. They recruited foreign production companies and in return offered cheap working conditions. They found the cheap labor in the countryside, because the farmers were ready to move to the city for better future prospects. In order to be able to continue offering these cheap workers, the strict controls of the Hukou system had to be relaxed (cf. NGAI / WANWEI 2006: 18). In 1997 rural residents were allowed to immigrate to smaller towns in selected areas. However, certain requirements had to be met, such as a permanent place of residence and a regular income (cf. Hartmann 2006: 141f.). The problem was that, on the one hand, the migrants should be directed to the smaller cities, but these are not resource-rich enough to exert enough pull factors on the migrants. On the other hand, the large resource-rich cities that have the necessary resources do not feel ready to provide the necessary costs for the large numbers of immigrants, as they fear that this will have negative consequences for their own competitiveness. Because of this deeper-lying problem of resource distribution, a fundamental reform or attempted elimination of the hukou system came about in 2001 and 2005 (cf. Wang 2010: 342ff.). The coastal provinces in particular now allow rural residents to live in the cities without restrictions. However, Shanghai and Beijing, the cities that offer great incentives for the rural population, have not yet agreed to discontinue the hukou system (cf. Hartmann 2006: 142). These and other cities are reluctant to pay the associated costs and are also under increasing financial pressure due to increasing debt. Despite further planned reforms of the hukou system, selected reform provinces and individual experiments in different cities, the division of Chinese society into an urban and a rural-peasant sub-society will remain for the time being.

2.5. The migration and urbanization policy in China

State policy has had a massive impact on migration policy since its inception, that is, since the reform process began in the late 1970s. Economic growth has been the top priority so far. But there has been a change in attitudes towards migration. Politics has become more resilient and flexible, and migration is even being driven to some extent. This change in migration policy can be roughly divided into three phases.

The first phase is that of restriction. During this time, the admission of migrant workers was forbidden. It began in 1978 and ended in 1983. This was followed by a phase of regulated migration that lasted until 2000. Its aim was to channel the flow of rural migrants into small and medium-sized towns. In addition, unemployed migrant workers were sent back to their homeland by means of deportation detention. In recent years the Chinese government has tried to make an effort to create a legal basis for equal treatment of migrant workers, particularly with regard to labor law. It has been recognized by the Chinese political leadership that their job performance is essential for economic growth. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of labor law and in improving the living conditions of migrant workers. This phase, which continues to this day, is known as promoting migration (cf. Schnack 2010: 28 f.).

3. Working and living conditions of migrants in the city

3.1. The fields of employment and working conditions of migrants

The Hukou system leaves rural workers out of the urban labor market. This makes it almost impossible for rural migrants to find formal work and forces them to work in the informal sector. In recent years, the strict restrictions that migrants had been subjected to have been reduced at the national level. contained. But as governments care more about the employment opportunities of their city dwellers, migrant workers continue to be excluded and the majority of them are employed in the informal sector. There has been a decline in formal work in state industry since the mid-1990s.The additional low labor standards have meant that more and more informal workers have been required. Therefore, the informal sector in the state economy in China is exceptionally strong. With private companies expanding rapidly since the reform began, the need for informal workers rose rapidly. Therefore, in China, compared to the rest of the world, the proportion of informal wage labor within the formal sector is noticeably higher. In traditional industrial sectors such as construction, informal work is more the norm than the exception, because here the proportion is 80 percent. In addition, this is also the norm in the manufacturing industry, especially in the export sector and in mining. The informal form of employment is also very common in the services sector (cf. Braun 2011: 31ff.). Migrant workers are also very numerically represented in these sectors.

Figure not included in this excerpt

(see Gransow 2012: 4)

The table shows the different areas of work in which the migrant workers were active in 2011 and in which region in China they are located. Over a third of the migrant workers were employed in the manufacturing sector such as textile factories. These are mainly located in the eastern coastal regions. Almost 18 percent worked in the construction industry, primarily men, due to the heavy physical work. This field of employment was particularly located in the western regions and central China, as there was still more free space for building. Other sectors in which the migrant workers have operated are transport and traffic, wholesaling and retailing, hotels and restaurants, and the tertiary sector. Today the percentage of the distribution of the fields of employment is likely to be similar.


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