China's Future: Following the Migrants
I live in China and everyday I see all around me massive upheavals and constant shifts as this country rushes into its modernity. A process by which the periphery of the population, of the culture, and living areas are colliding with the established customs and modes of the state. It does not take living here very long before you become accustomed to the sight of peddlers and street vendors at every intersection and at all hours of the day. You see buildings fall and new ones take their place before you can take a second look. Whenever you use public transportation crowded around you are those that move from place to place their merchandise balancing on their shoulders. Migrants are everywhere and there are many million of them putting more and more pressure on this rapidly developing economy and the regulations of the state. Like a barreling train rushing down the tracks and ever gaining speed China is achieving the prosperity it set out to with the reforms of the early 1980's, but not without the possibility of altering the country more than was originally intended. With ever step there seems to be less control and more room for fluency while the government struggles to maintain its authority. This state of flux is one that pervades everything with all its variability meshed with attempts at restricting. It has become what I know as China; the character and spirit of this place. The new found spontaneity is the force pushing everything forward with staggered leaps, but not without pressing against the walls of the old institution. Where it will take this vastly transforming country? That is the question everyone is wondering as China moves into the twentieth century, entering into the global sphere: trade markets, environmental concerns, politics, etc. and as the largest country in the world it certainly is a weighty question. This is the focus of my paper: the attributes and effects of this rapid development through an issue that embodies this new range of possibilities: migration.
Migration in China has become a way of life for a large portion of its population and holds many unique variables that differ from other migration patterns in the world. The political situation as well as demographic and geographic conditions have all influenced the reasons for the migrants leaving their homeland. Through this paper I wish to dissect these dense issues to see why and how these conditions have instigated such a large number of people to go on the move and how they did. This is covered in three major issues: the rural vs. the urban population in China, the actual possibility and process of mobility of the migrants, and the effects of migration on the economy and government. These subjects are the pillars of migration here ultimately affecting what type of atmosphere is created. In addition to these explanations I will include pieces of my personal experiences of migration within China to give the reader a greater scope of what is occurring here. By connecting these two types of perspective on migration I will hopefully be able to give not definite answers but more importantly insight into the question of China's future. This country is certainly on the move and one has to do everything one can just to keep up, but within those depths of the malleable and intermixing situations that are playing out one can find some amazing vibrancy that has become China. It is reaching for the future. Let us begin that journey.
Where the Paths Lead
The current figures for how many migrants there are in China range from 30 million to over 100 million each year.1 This great range in figures illustrates the uncertainty that is so prevalent in the future of this country and its economy. Yet, the government claims in many varying accounts to be maintaining and tracking these mass movements of people. It seems doubtful that they have the situation under control, but I do not think the institutions of China are being entirely left behind either. The government is at least attempting to keep pace with more major problems migration is creating. For example, as mentioned before the educational opportunities for the children of migrants was expensive and difficult, on the whole scarce, but the government has been taking new initiatives to remedy this problem. They invited UNESCO, a organization of the United Nations, to set up some experimental schools which are specifically geared towards educating migrants' children. It seems for the most part these schools have met with success, though the number of schools is still very small. The government is also attempting to encourage many other initiatives in the smaller towns to enliven the economy there such as giving loans with little interest or reducing taxes. In one other case the government even switched a number cities to urban status because of their growing population and economic prosperity. However, all these projects were still in preliminary phases and did not include great portions of the land area or population.
The hukou system still exists and still holds a dividing line between two classes of people: the rural and the urban. The government has not relented on this separation nor does it seem willing to revise its conditions to eliminate some of the unequal treatment. Nevertheless, times are changing and with the growing economy the benefits of the urban hukou slowly decreasing making a more even playing field. At this point in China one thing has emerged that makes everyone equal: everyone can make money. Of course it is still in varying amounts depending on from where on has come from, but everyone at least has the option of striking out to seek their fortune.
China has definitely come a long way from its Communist roots. Although it claims to be a socialist state, China has become thoroughly capitalistic in most of its endeavors. This booming economy is the product a monumental change made at beginning of 80's: the allowing of the rural and urban populations to interact and create networks. With this shift the face of China has rapidly evolved. However, the question remains: will the government be able to keep up with the economy or will the economy be able to break loose of the government? At the crux of this question is migration as the vitality of the nation pressing against the walls of its old home. This is where the power of change lies. In the end, China will trade its old self for a new one, but hopefully that new visage will incorporate a more complete view of itself, as the world will do the same on receiving what China has become.