urbanization china

Urbanization in China



rural reckon milestone
urban ensure consumption
surge obstacle outnumber
crucial welfare equivalent
boost access segregate
rely mortgage subsidize
relic swathe deterrent
slum destitute trigger (2)
deter case (3) avalanche
avoid instability resistance





China is about to reach a milestone in its economic transformation: in the next couple of years, for the first time in the country’s history, urban residents will outnumber rural ones.

China’s cities have ballooned in recent years as migrants from the countryside have surged in to find work.

This process of urbanization is a crucial driver of China’s economic growth. The migrants not only provide labour for factories, they also boost consumption by renting apartments, shopping in markets, eating in restaurants and using nearby services.

China needs more consumption of this kind.

Officials say, and many economists agree, that the country has relied too much on investment and exports.

The good news for China’s economy is that urbanization still has a long way to run.

In 1978, only 18% of Chinese lived in cities. This rose to 30% in 1995 and nearly 40% in 2002. Now it’s just under half.

But this is still far lower than Europe’s urbanization rate of more than 75% or America’s of over 80%.

McKinsey, a consultancy, reckons that another 350 million Chinese could move into cities over the next two decades.

That’s the equivalent of more than America’s entire population.

But it won’t be easy: China’s urbanization is running into difficulties.

Young people have left the countryside in droves, leaving many village only with elderly people and children.

As the young migrants get older, they find it increasingly difficult to find work in the cities.

But still they have their land, and some decide to go back.

The challenge will be ensuring that migrants become fully fledged, productive urbanites for their entire lifetimes.

One obstacle is a system of household registration, called hukou. This is a relic of the Mao Era, when the Communist Party decided to segregate urban and rural residents, and give them different welfare benefits.

These days it does not stop migration, but slows it down, making it very difficult for rural hukou holders to get access to urban schools, hospitals and subsidized housing.

Another problem is the system of rural land ownership, which acts as a powerful deterrent against urban migration.

Rural Hukou holders are entitled to till a small piece of land. They can rent it out, but they can’t sell or mortgage it.

The government sees it as a kind of welfare provision: with their little plots of land, people in the countryside will not go hungry or destitute.

Not surprisingly, many rural hukou holders would like to keep this benefit.

Some Chinese economist say it is time to privatize rural land.

This will allow farmers to sell it and start up anew in cities.

But there is a power resistance in the party to any such reform.

Conservatives feel that giving farmers such freedom would trigger an avalanche of landless people that would turn swathes of China’s cities into slums.

China is proud of having largely avoided this common problem in the rest of the developing world.

In the minds of party leaders, the global financial crisis has strengthen the case for caution.

As many as 20 million migrant workers temporarily lost their jobs when the crisis broke in 2008.

Having farmland to go back to many officials believe, kept them from taking to the streets.

The party’s fear of instability is holding back reforms that are needed to keep the economy booming in the years ahead.


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1. China has traditional been an agrarian society. Is this correct or wrong?

2. Many rural residents have migrated to the cities in recent decades. Why have they migrated to urban areas? Has this benefited the economy? How has this benefited the economy?

3. More people in China live in urban areas than the US. There is more urbanization in China than the US. True or false?

4. Do the lives of migrants remain the same or do it change over their lives?

5. Are urban and rural residents treated fairly or unequally in cities?

6. What is the hokou system? What are the advantages and disadvantages of it?

7. Is there unanimous support for the hokou system? Who are the proponents and opponents of it?


A. Do you live in the city or the country? What can you say about demographics?

B. Do you and your friends, classmates or coworkers prefer living the city or country?

C. Is there an “ideal” distribution of residents? Should more people live in or remain in villages?

D. What might happen in the future?

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