Native place, migration and the emergence of peasant enclaves in Beijing

Type Journal Article - The China Quarterly
Title Native place, migration and the emergence of peasant enclaves in Beijing
Volume 155
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 1998
Page numbers 546-581
URL and Xiang Native Place,​Migration and Emergence of Peasant Enclaves in Beijing.pdf
Since the early 1980s, reduced migration control by the state and
increasing economic liberalization in China have led to the movement of
millions of peasants to the cities, creating various types of new "urban
spaces" and "non-state spaces."' This influx has fundamentally changed
the social, spatial and economic landscapes of the Chinese city, making
the urban scene much more varied, lively and dynamic, but less safe and
orderly than that of the Maoist era. Aside from the resulting expansion of
city population, the Chinese city is also taking on some of the features
common to other Third World cities, including the formation of migrant
communities in both the cities and suburbs.2 In 1990, in the built-up areas
of eight of China's largest cities, the "floating population" accounted for
between 11.1 to 27.5 per cent of the total de facto urban population.3 At
the same time, the urban population has also become much more diverse
as peasants from different provinces group spontaneously in spatially
distinct enclaves, producing a new urban mosaic that did not exist in
Maoist China.4 Whereas some of enclaves are formed by non-Hanminority groups, such as the two "Xinjiang villages" in Beijing where the
Uygurs (more commonly but unofficially, "Uighurs") from Xinjiang have
congregated, most of them are formed by Han-Chinese. The Han peasant
enclaves, however, are far from uniform in social structure, economic
activity, population size or physical appearance.
This massive arrival of peasants has attracted much media attention.
Media reports have tended to see the migrants in a negative light, linking
them with such problems as increasing crime rates, burdening of the
already heavily used public transport system, disorderly (luan) street
scenes and the neglect of family planning." There is also a large corpus
of scholarly literature on rural-urban migration, especially on such issues
as the effect of the hukou system on migration, the relationship between
migration and urbanization, the impact of migrants on urban public
facilities and the political implications of the influx of peasants. Few
studies, however, exist on the migrant communities themselves.6 The
picture that emerges from some of these studies is of migrants as social
pariahs, discriminated against by and excluded from the existing urban
institutional environment. They are often seen as poor and uneducated,
capable of selling their cheap labour only by taking lowly-paid jobs that
are dirty, difficult, dangerous (the so-called 3-D jobs) and tedious, selling
vegetables and small household items on the street, or doing repairs and menial work. They are portrayed as the lower class in a supposedly
two-class urban society where the long-time residents, with urban hukou,
are the privileged upper class who enjoy such benefits as guaranteed grain
supply, job security, socialist medicine, almost-free housing and heavily
subsidized foods and urban services. Such urban entitlements are unavailable
to peasants who are depicted as a large but implicitly undifferentiated
group with little hope of breaking through the hukou barriers.
No doubt many peasants in Chinese cities do fit such a picture.
However, any attempt to impose such a simplified - albeit neatly dualistic
- order on such a complex phenomenon as China's urban society
obscures and misrepresents the reality of urban China, masking the
migrants' heterogeneous ways of life, diverse employment patterns and
income differences. For the uninformed, such a rigid dualistic division of
urban society may also lead to the erroneous conclusion that there is little
possibility for the rural migrants to succeed economically, socially and
politically in the cities. With the relaxation of migration control, the issue
of "resident identification cards" (jumin shenfen zheng) in 1985 to all
citizens over 16 years of age, the selling of "blue seal" urban hukou by
some cities and towns since the early 1990s, and the decontrol of the
urban food supply that has rendered the food ration system dormant since
1992, China's urban society has become much more fluid and dynamic.7
Are the migrants all poor, socially marginalized and so institutionally
excluded from economic activities that they cannot significantly raise
their income? Also, recent evidence questions the persistent view that
rural migrants have come to the cities as "blind flows" (mangliu), a term
implying that the movement is random and disorganized and that the
migrants have no prior knowledge of job opportunities there. But are
there identifiable forces that channel the rural migrants to a specific place
or particular type of employment? Additionally, are the peasant migrants
in the cities merely passive beneficiaries of reforms or have they been
able to penetrate institutional hurdles and to effect institutional change in
urban China?

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