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Research Report

Migration and small towns in China: Power hierarchy and resource allocation

Bingqin Li
Xiangsheng An
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2009
Pages: 92
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    Towns play a significant role in the Chinese economy. Between 1978 and 2007, the number of towns rose from 2,173 to 19,249 (China Statistical Yearbook, 2008). Between 1978 and 1998, the proportion of people in China living in the built-up areas of small towns also increased, from 5.5 percent to 13.6 percent. People living in small towns as a proportion of the urban population increased from 20 percent to 45 percent between 1978 and 2007(National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2008). As some small towns prospered, they attracted migrants from rural areas and other towns. Prosperous small towns may also...

  2. (pp. 1-3)

    The term ‘small towns’ (xiaochengzhen) in China can have different meanings. It can refer to: 1) small cities, officially recognized towns and market towns; 2) small cities and officially recognized towns; 3) officially recognized towns; or 4) officially recognized towns and market towns. More precisely small towns are defined as small urban centres of different scales and administrative types. To avoid confusion, in this report the term ‘small towns’ does not include market towns.

    The detailed definition of jianzhizhen changed over time. Prior to 1964, ‘town’ meant an area with more than 2,000 permanent residents, of which 50 percent or...

  3. (pp. 3-8)

    Throughout Chinese history, the growth of small towns has been underpinned by bottom up market forces rather than centralized planning, even under Mao’s rule. However, heavy state control over industrialization and urbanization during the Central Planning era made it impossible for small towns to develop. Deliberately using small town development to achieve national social and economic goals is a quite recent policy which only emerged in the 1980s. Since then, a series of new policies and policy revisions have been published to form and reform small town development strategies. These strategies interact with patterns of industrialization and urbanization and are...

  4. (pp. 8-23)

    In this section, we examine the role of small town authorities in meeting the needs generated by migration in the light of administrative reforms and government financing systems. It is argued that because of their status and the incentives generated in the urban government system, small towns will find it unavoidably difficult to muster the necessary resources and administrative capacity to deal with migration.

    The Chinese government has a five tier structure, central, provincial, prefectural, county, city and township (or community in cities). There are several layers between the central and the lowest level of authority and it is particularly...

  5. (pp. 23-73)

    In the past few decades, considerable resources have been devoted to the development of coastal provinces. Since 2000, attention has turned to the western provinces, where national investment has accelerated economic growth. The central provinces (Shanxi, Hubei, Hunan, Henan, Anhui and Jiangxi) on the other hand, were not considered a national priority for economic development. By 2004, their GDP had fallen behind the western and the north-eastern provinces which used to be much poorer (An and Liu, 2006). At the same time, sustained growth in the eastern and coastal areas began to suffer from high labour costs. In order to...

  6. (pp. 73-75)

    In this report, we have questioned the role of small towns in handling domestic migration, especially as a part of the national urbanization strategy. Increasing the speed of urbanization is a policy that comes from the central government. Using small towns to decrease migration to large cities is another strategy which has been imposed from above. Under the current system, small town authorities do not have the resources and often do not have the power to carry out their plans to host more migrants. At the same time, higher authorities and governments can easily overpower small town authorities through the...