Chapter 19: From apartheid to semi-citizenship: Chinese migrant workers and their challenge to social policy
The dramatic rise in rural-to-urban migration is a major outcome of China’s economic reforms. Before the 1980s Chinese society was rigidly divided into urban dwellers and rural residents, and migration was strictly forbidden. A few years after the rural reforms began in 1978 peasant migrants were estimated at 20 million (1982). In 1990 the estimate went up to 64 million and then to 80 million in 1995 (Ma and Xiang, 1998). By the time of the fifth national census (2000), peasants who had lived in places other than the towns of their household registration for more than six months exceeded 90 million. The latest census (2010) counted 221.4 million such persons, a stunning increase of 81 per cent (State Statistical Bureau, 2011) over one decade. This means that, out of the 665.6 million persons found living in urban areas, migrants made up one-third. Such a size and rate of migration are phenomenal in world history. The impact of migration into cities has been profound. Sociologically, the large influxes have created a new social stratum in Chinese society, making obsolete the dual-class division that came into being after 1949.
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