Chapter 4: Migration, membership regimes and social policies: a view from global history
In the last decade the unprecedented massive rural to urban migrations in China have attracted scholarly attention, especially of those who are interested in citizenship. Although these Chinese peasants, drawn to the bright lights and factories of cities like Shanghai and Dongguan, are internal migrants, they are treated almost as foreigners. After the economic liberalization by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, rural Chinese wereallowed to leave their villages and work and (de facto) settle in cities. They are excluded, however, from the social rights (benefits, education, healthcare) that urbanites enjoy. The basis for this unequal treatment is the ‘hukou system’, put in place in the 1950s, which binds the Chinese population to its administrative units and which was originally aimed at surveiling the mobility of Chinese citizens and preventing urbanization. This system of internal controls was adopted from the Soviet Union. Its propiska system, established by the Russian czars in the nineteenth century and reintroduced by Stalin in December 1932, along with a mandatory residence permit (propiska), regulated (and still does) the settlement of Russians in cities. Whereas Chinese and Russian peasants were excluded from urban services and institutions, this practice was radically different for foreign merchants in early modern Western European cities, like Bruges, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Urban elites did their best to attract and accommodate Italian, German and Iberian traders within their city walls, hoping that they would stimulate the urban economy.
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