Chapter 14: The globalization-migration nexus across China’s internal and international human movements
Open access

Human movements within and across China’s borders are increasingly diverse, complex, and interlinked, in strong entanglements with changing globalization and urbanization processes. This chapter aims to map and highlight the role of economic globalization in shaping the interlocking dynamics of China’s internal and international migration and to assess how the globalization-migration relationship is similarly or differently examined in these two dichotomized research groups. Highlighting a historical perspective, our literature review shows internal and international migrants are linked in multiple underexplored ways through social networks, infrastructures, and use of working and living spaces. While both research groups used to echoing a push-pull and development-migration nexus approach, they are turning towards more experience-focused and qualitative assessment of the migration process. Innovative approaches that go beyond rural-urban and internal-international binaries are in urgent need to explore more diverse and interwoven forms of migration taking place in rapidly shifting social, economic, and political contexts.

  • Axelsson, L. (2017) Living within temporally thick borders: IT professionals’ experiences of Swedish immigration policy and practice. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43(6), pp. 974–990.

  • Axelsson, L., Malmberg, B. and Zhang, Q. (2017) On waiting, work-time and imagined futures: theorising temporal precariousness among Chinese chefs in Sweden’s restaurant industry. Geoforum, 78, pp. 169–78.

  • Bodomo, A (2010) The African trading community in Guangzhou: an emerging bridge for Africa–China relations. The China Quarterly, 203, pp. 693–707.

  • Braun, L.N., and Haugen, H.Ø. (2023) The weight women carry: research on the visible and invisible baggage in suitcase trade between China and Africa. The Professional Geographer, 75(1), pp. 138–44.

  • Cai, F. (1997) The role of family and gender in migration decision-making. Population Research, 21(2), pp. 7–12.

  • Cai, X. and Su, X. (2021) Dwelling-in-travelling: Western expats and the making of temporary home in Guangzhou, China. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 47(12), pp. 2815–32.

  • Cai, J., Wang, G. and Yang, Z. (2007) Trends and change of spatial patterns of China’s migration. Population Research, 31(5), pp. 9–19.

  • Castillo, R. (2016) ‘Homing’ Guangzhou: emplacement, belonging and precarity among Africans in China. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 19(3), pp. 287–306.

  • Ceccagno, A. (2015) The mobile emplacement: Chinese migrants in Italian industrial districts. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41(7), pp. 1111–30.

  • Chan, K.W. (2010) The global financial crisis and migrant workers in China: ‘There is no future as a labourer; returning to the village has no meaning’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34(3), pp. 659–77.

  • Chan, K.W. (2018) Urbanization with Chinese Characteristics: The Hukou System and Migration. London: Routledge.

  • Chen, S. (2022) Mobility-ethnicity nexus in the China-North Korea borderland of Yanbian: migration infrastructure and multi-directional flows. China Information, 36(4), pp. 344–362.

  • Chen, S., and Liu, Z. (2016) What determines the settlement intention of rural migrants in China? Economic incentives versus sociocultural conditions. Habitat International, 58, pp. 42–50.

  • Cheng, M. and Duan, C. (2021) The changing trends of internal migration and urbanization in China: new evidence from the seventh National Population Census. China Population and Development Studies, 5(1), pp. 1–21.

  • Chuang, J. (2016) Factory girls after the factory: female return migrations in rural China. Gender & Society, 30(3), pp. 467–89.

  • Ding, J. (1994) Investigating the causes and spatial characteristics of interprovincial migration in China. Population Research, 1, pp. 14–21.

  • Ding, J., Liu, Z., Cheng, D., Liu, J. and Zou, J. (2005) Regional differences and spatial characteristics of China’s migratory flows. Acta Geographica Sinica – Chinese Edition, 60(1), pp. 106–14.

  • Duan, C. (2001) Analysis of impacting factors of interprovincial migration’s destination choices. Population Research, 25(1), pp. 56–61.

  • Dumor, K., Yao, Y., Ma, Y., Ampaw, E.M. and Dumor, H. (2022) Evaluating the belt and road initiative effects on trade and migration: evidence from the East African community. African Development Review, 34(4), pp. 16–28.

  • Fan, C.C. (1996) Economic opportunities and internal migration: a case study of Guangdong Province, China. The Professional Geographer, 48(1), pp. 28–45.

  • Fan, C.C. (2002) The elite, the natives, and the outsiders: migration and labor market segmentation in urban China. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 92(1), pp. 103–24.

  • Fan, C.C. (2008) China on the move: migration, the state, and the household. The China Quarterly, 196, pp. 924–56.

  • Fan, C.C. and Li, L. (2002) Marriage and migration in transitional China: a field study of Gaozhou, western Guangdong. Environment and Planning A, 34(4), pp. 619–38.

  • Fan, C.C. and Lu, J. (2001) Foreign direct investment, migration and locational factors in China, 1985–1997. Asian Geographer, 20(1–2), pp. 79–99.

  • Farrer, J. (2019). International Migrants in China’s Global City: The New Shanghailanders. New York: Routledge.

  • Franceschini, I., Siu, K. and Chan, A. (2016). The ‘rights awakening’ of Chinese migrant workers: beyond the generational perspective. Critical Asian Studies, 48, pp. 422–42.

  • Gaetano, A.M. and Jacka, T. (2004) On the Move: Women and Rural-to-Urban Migration in Contemporary China. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Gao, Q. (2021) Reconstituting the neoliberal subjectivity of migrants: Christian theo-ethics and migrant workers in Shenzhen, China. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41(12), pp. 2725–44.

  • Gao, Y., ed. (2010) Concealed chains: Labour exploitation and Chinese migrants in Europe. Geneva: International Labour Office.

  • Guo, F. and Zhang, Z. (2012) The status of floating population in the urban labour market: studies of three groups. Population Research, 1, pp. 3–14.

  • Guo, S. (2013) Economic integration of recent Chinese immigrants in Canada’s second-tier cities: the triple glass effect and immigrants’ downward social mobility. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 45(3), pp. 95–115.

  • Guo, S. (2022) Reimagining Chinese diasporas in a transnational world: toward a new research agenda. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 48(4), pp. 847–72.

  • Han, Y. (2021) Bargaining with patriarchy: returned dagongmei’s (factory girls’) gendered spaces in neoliberalizing China’s hinterland. Gender, Place & Culture, 28(12), pp. 1673–94.

  • Hanisch, S. (2022). Searching for Sweetness: Women’s Mobile Lives in China and Lesotho. Hongkong University Press. PhD thesis.

  • Hare, D. (1999) ‘Push’ versus ‘pull’ factors in migration outflows and returns: determinants of migration status and spell duration among China’s rural population. The Journal of Development Studies, 35(3), pp. 45–72.

  • Haugen, H.Ø. and Speelman, T. (2022) China’s rapid development has transformed its migration trends. Migration Information Source, 28 January [online], www.migrationpolicy.org/article/china-development-transformed-migration.

  • He, J. (2002) The regional concentration of China’s interprovincial migration flows, 1982–1990. Population and Environment, 24(2), pp. 149–82.

  • Hickey, M. and Yeoh, B.S. (2016) Crossing borders and traversing boundaries: closing the ‘gap’ between internal and international migration in Asia. Population, Space and Place, 22, pp. 642–50.

  • Hong, X. (2007) Research on rural migrant workers’ family migration behaviours and impacting factors. Chinese Journal of Population Science, 6, pp. 42–50.

  • Hou, M., Zhou, X., and Jiang, R. (2022) What influences family migration decision of China’s new generation rural-urban migrants? A multilevel logistic regression analysis. Journal of Geographical Research, 5(4), pp. 1–15.

  • Hu, W. (2023) Why did Chongqing’s recent hukou reform fail? A Chinese migrant workers’ perspective. Urban Geography, 44 (8), 1833–1842.

  • Huang, B. (2014) Double disembedding and class formation of the new generation of rural migrant workers. Sociological Studies, 2, pp. 170–88.

  • Huang, Y. and Yi, C. (2015) Invisible migrant enclaves in Chinese cities: underground living in Beijing, China. Urban Studies, 52(15), pp. 2948–73.

  • Jin, X., Bolt, G., Spierings, B., Hooimeijer, P. (2022) Network-diversification and trust-building strategies of transnational migrant entrepreneurs: evidence from African migrant entrepreneurs in South China. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 46, pp. 1–19.

  • King, R. (2012) Geography and migration studies: retrospect and prospect. Population, Space and Place, 18(2), pp. 134–53.

  • Knight, J. and Song, L. (2003) Chinese peasant choices: migration, rural industry or farming. Oxford Development Studies, 31(2), pp. 123–48.

  • Knight, J., Deng, Q. and Li, S. (2011) The puzzle of migrant labour shortage and rural labour surplus in China. China Economic Review, 22(4), pp. 585–600.

  • Kuah-Pearce, K.E. (2016) Migrant women entrepreneurs in the garment industry in modern China: embedding translocality and feminised Guanxi networks. International Journal of Business and Globalisation, 16(3), pp. 335–49.

  • Kwan, H. (2022) Gendered precarious employment in China’s gig economy: exploring women gig drivers’ intersectional vulnerabilities and resistances. Gender & Development, 30(3), pp. 551–73.

  • Lan, S. (2019) Reconstructing blackness in grassroots interactions between Chinese and Africans in Guangzhou. Anthropological Quarterly, 92(2), pp. 481–508.

  • Le Bail, H. and Shen, W. (2008) The returns of the brains to China. What are the social, economic and political impacts. Asie Visions, 11, 1–31.

  • Li, M. and Wong, D. (2017) Moving the migration frontier: a Chinese Qiaoxiang migration model? International Migration, 56(1), pp. 63–77.

  • Li, P. (1996) Social network and social status of floating rural migrant workers. Sociological Studies, 4(50), p. 41–52.

  • Li, P. and Li, W. (2013) The work situation and social attitudes of migrant workers in China under the crisis. In: Li, P. and Roulleau-Berger, L. (eds), China’s Internal and International Migration. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 3–25.

  • Li, P. and Roulleau-Berger, L. (2013) China’s Internal and International Migration. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Li, Q. (2003) Analysis of push and pull factors affecting China’s population flows to cities. Social Sciences in China, 1, pp. 125–36.

  • Liang, Z. (2001) The age of migration in China. Population and Development Review, 27(3), pp. 499–524.

  • Liang, Z. and Ma, Z. (2004) China’s floating population: new evidence from the 2000 census. Population and Development Review, 30(3), pp. 467–88.

  • Lin, L. and Zhu, Y. (2014) Choices and determinants of the destination’s spatial types in the floating population’s first-time migration: study in Fujian Province. SCIENTIA GEOGRAPHICA SINICA, 34(5), pp. 539–46.

  • Lin, S., Wu, F., Liang, Q., Li, Z. and Guo, Y. (2022) From hometown to the host city? Migrants’ identity transition in urban China. Cities, 122, 103567.

  • Liu, C.W. (2020) Return migration, online entrepreneurship and gender performance in the Chinese ‘Taobao families’. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 61(3), pp. 478–93.

  • Liu, Y., Liu, Y. and Li, Z. (2014) Settlement intention of new migrants in China’s large cities: patterns and determinants. SCIENTIA GEOGRAPHICA SINICA, 34(7), pp. 780–87.

  • Liu, J., Zheng, X., Parker, M. and Fang, X. (2020) Childhood left-behind experience and employment quality of new-generation migrants in China. Population Research and Policy Review, 39, pp. 691–718.

  • Lu, F. (2012) Wage trend of China’s rural migrant workers, 1979–2010. Social Sciences in China, 7, pp. 47–67.

  • Luk, W.E. (2009) Chinese ethnic settlements in Britain: spatial meanings of an orderly distribution, 1981–2001. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35(4), pp. 575–99.

  • Ma, Z. (2002) Social-capital mobilization and income returns to entrepreneurship: the case of return migration in rural China. Environment and Planning A, 34(10), pp. 1763–84.

  • Ma, Z., Zhu, J., Meng, Y. and Teng, Y. (2019) The impact of overseas human capital and social ties on Chinese returnee entrepreneurs’ venture performance. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 25(1), pp. 67–83.

  • Mai, F. (2017) Expatriate 2.0: new media for new expatriates. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 1(1), pp. 101–16.

  • Mallee, H. and Pieke, F.N. (2014). Internal and International Migration: Chinese Perspectives. New York: Routledge.

  • Man, G. (2004) Gender, work and migration: deskilling Chinese immigrant women in Canada. Women’s Studies International Forum, 27(2), pp. 135–48.

  • McKeown, A. (2009) All that is molten freezes again. In: Turner, B.S. (ed.), The Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies. New York: Routledge, pp. 162–81.

  • Mohan, G., Lampert, B., Tan-Mullins, M. and Chang, D. (2014) Chinese Migrants and Africa’s Development: New Imperialists or Agents of Change? London: Zed Books.

  • Morris, C. (2021) Moving to keep still: dynamic stillness in the digital and physical geographies of Beijing. Mobilities, 16(6), pp. 935–50.

  • Murphy, R. (1999) Return migrant entrepreneurs and economic diversification in two counties in south Jiangxi, China. Journal of International Development, 11(4), p. 661–672.

  • Murphy, R. (2008) Labour Migration and Social Development in Contemporary China. London: Routledge.

  • Murray, W.E. and Overton, J. (2014). Geographies of Globalization. London: Routledge.

  • Muttarak, R. (2017) Moving along the belt and road: implications of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategies on Chinese migration. Translocal Chinese: East Asian Perspectives, 11, pp. 312–32.

  • Ngai, P. (2005) Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Page, J. and Plaza, S. (2006) Migration remittances and development: a review of global evidence. Journal of African Economies, 15(suppl 2), pp. 245–336.

  • Pieke, F.N. (2004) Transnational Chinese: Fujianese Migrants in Europe. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  • Pieke, F.N. (2012) Immigrant China. Modern China, 38(1), pp. 40–77.

  • Rozelle, S., Guo, L., Shen, M., Hughart, A. and Giles, J. (1999) Leaving China’s farms: survey results of new paths and remaining hurdles to rural migration. The China Quarterly, 158, pp. 367–93.

  • Shen, H. (2005) ‘The first Taiwanese wives’ and ‘the Chinese mistresses’: the international division of labour in familial and intimate relations across the Taiwan strait. Global Networks, 5(4), pp. 419–37.

  • Shen, J. (2013) Increasing internal migration in China from 1985 to 2005: institutional versus economic drivers. Habitat International, 39, pp. 1–7.

  • Shi, Z. and Yang, Y. (2012) Family entitlements, family decision-making and return migration of rural migrant workers. Sociological Studies, 3(8), pp. 157–81.

  • Skeldon, R. (2000) Myths and Realities of Chinese Irregular Migration. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.

  • Skeldon, R. (2006) Interlinkages between internal and international migration and development in the Asian region. Population, Space and Place, 12(1), pp. 15–30.

  • Skeldon, R. (2011) China: an emerging destination for economic migration. Migration Information Source, 31 May [online], www.migrationpolicy.org/article/china-emerging-destination-economic-migration.

  • Sun, W. (2013) The productivity of return migrants: the case of China’s ‘Sea Turtles’. IZA Journal of Migration, 2(1), pp. 1–19.

  • Tan, Y. (2023) Gendered skilled migration: American women in China. Asian Geographer, 40(1), pp. 19–35.

  • Tan, Y. and Zhu, Y. (2021) China’s changing internal migration: toward a China variant of Zelinsky’s transition thesis. Geoforum, 126, pp. 101–04.

  • Thunø, M., and Li, M. (2020) Introduction: new dynamics of Chinese migration to Europe. International Migration, 58(3), pp. 5–21.

  • Tseng, Y. (2011) Shanghai rush: skilled migrants in a fantasy city. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37(5), pp. 765–84.

  • Wang, G. (2004) Characteristics of China’s migration after the economic reform. Population and Economy, 4, pp. 1–8.

  • Wang, G., Pan, Z. and Lu, Y. (2012) Changes of regional patterns of China’s interprovincial migration: analysis based on census 2000 and 2010. Chinese Journal of Population Science, 5, pp. 2–13.

  • Wang, W.W. and Fan, C.C. (2006) Success or failure: selectivity and reasons of return migration in Sichuan and Anhui, China. Environment and Planning A, 38(5), pp. 939–58.

  • Wilmsen, B. and Wang, M. (2015) Voluntary and involuntary resettlement in China: a false dichotomy? Development in Practice, 25(5), pp. 612–27.

  • Wu, F. and Webber, K. (2004) The rise of ‘foreign gated communities’ in Beijing: between economic globalization and local institutions. Cities, 21(3), pp. 203–13.

  • Wu, J.M. (2010) Rural migrant workers and China’s differential citizenship: a comparative institutional analysis. In: Whyte, M.K. (ed.), One Country, Two Societies: Rural-Urban Inequality in Contemporary China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 55–81.

  • Wu, W. (2002) Migrant housing in urban China: choices and constraints. Urban Affairs Review, 38(1), pp. 90–119.

  • Xiang, B. (2005) Transcending Boundaries: Zhejiangcun: The Story of a Migrant Village in Beijing. Leiden: Brill.

  • Xiang, B. (2007) The making of mobile subjects: how migration and institutional reform intersect in northeast China. Development, 50(4), pp. 69–74.

  • Xiang, B. (2012) Predatory princes and princely peddlers: the state and international labour migration intermediaries in China. Pacific Affairs, 85(1), pp. 47–68.

  • Xiang, B. (2015) The rise of China, changing patterns of out-migration and identity implications. In: Iredale, R.R. and Guo, F. (eds.), Handbook of Chinese Migration: Identity and Wellbeing. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 278–96.

  • Xiang, B. (2016) Beyond methodological nationalism and epistemological behaviouralism: drawing illustrations from migrations within and from China. Population, Space and Place, 22(7), pp. 669–80.

  • Yang, Y. (1992) Changes of China’s migration in the 1980s. Population and Economy, 5, pp. 12–16.

  • Yang, X. and Wang, Q. (2021) Transnational, translocal, and transient: Economic communities of Arab entrepreneurs in Yiwu, China. Population, Space and Place, 28(5), e2538.

  • Yeoh, B.S. and Willis, K. (2005) Singaporeans in China: transnational women elites and the negotiation of gendered identities. Geoforum, 36(2), pp. 211–22.

  • Yu, M. (2021) Curriculum of migrant communities in Mainland China. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education [online], https://oxfordre.com/education/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264093-e-1155.

  • Yu, B., Niu, G., Ye, J. and Zhang, W. (2022) Human capital agglomeration, institutional barriers, and internal migration in China. Growth and Change, 54(1), pp. 284–303.

  • Yu, Y., Brady, D. and Zhao, B. (2022) Digital geographies of the bug: a case study of China’s contact tracing systems in the Covid-19. Geoforum, 137, pp. 94–104.

  • Zani, B. (2022) Orange bras, petit capitalism and e-entrepreneurs. On the backroads of globalisation between China and Taiwan. Globalizations, pp. 1–16, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2022.2082098.

  • Zhang, G. (2003) Migration of highly skilled Chinese to Europe: trends and perspective. International Migration, 41(3), pp. 73–97.

  • Zhang, Q. (2018). Managing sandstorms through resettling pastoralists in China: how multiple forms of power govern the environment at/across scales. Journal of Political Ecology, 25(1), pp. 364–80.

  • Zhang, Q. and Axelsson, L. (2021) Channelling through bureaucracy: how migration intermediaries and state actors (re) shape Chinese migration to the Swedish restaurant industry. Geoforum, 123, pp. 14–22.

  • Zhao, Y. (1999) Leaving the countryside: rural-to-urban migration decisions in China. The American Economic Review, 89(2), pp. 281–6.

  • Zhao, Y. (2002) Causes and consequences of return migration: recent evidence from China. Journal of Comparative Economics, 30(2), pp. 376–94.

  • Zhao, Y. (2013) The logic of identity construction and the characterization of group differences: an empirical study based on new immigrants in Paris from Northeast China. Sociological Studies, 6, pp. 193–214.

  • Zhou, Y. (2022) Trapped in the platform: migration and precarity in China’s platform-based gig economy. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, DOI: 10.1177/0308518X22111919.

  • Zhu, H. and Qian, J. (2021) New theoretical dialogues on migration in China: introduction to the special issue. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 47(12), pp. 2685–705.

  • Zweig, D., Chen, C. and Rosen, S. (2004) Globalization and transnational human capital: overseas and returnee scholars to China. The China Quarterly, 179, pp. 735–57.