Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Is the grass greener there?

The assumption of most rural people is that opportunities and prosperity are greater in the city. The averages support the assumption. The responses of governments and politicians are unpredictable. Here's an example from China.

China's rural poor left stranded as urbanites race ahead
Between 1990 and 2009, China slashed its numbers of rural poor from 85 million to 35.97 million, thanks in large part to the wages sent home by migrant workers...

Yet many fear that two Chinas are emerging, with the countryside falling ever further behind…

For every one yuan of a rural resident's income, a city-dweller enjoys 3.23 yuan in disposable income – and that may significantly understate the gap. Include the extra services and benefits enjoyed by urbanites, such as subsidised housing, and "many observers believe that the ratio would easily be in the range of four to five and is arguably among the highest in the world," says professor Kam Wing Chan, an expert on migrants at the University of Washington.

"China's incomes are increasingly polarised. This large income gap is definitely a contributor in the background to the more frequent and violent protests and unrest in the last few months."

Even farmers who reach the cities as migrant workers are in effect second-class citizens, because China's hukou – household registration – system classifies people as urban or rural and allocates rights to services accordingly. One Chinese academic has described the result as "counterfeit urbanisation": cities full of people who cannot enjoy much of city life…

Experts say the disparity between rural and urban educational standards is one reason why the proportion of rural students in universities – particularly the top ones – is falling rapidly. According to Chinese media, pupils from the countryside made up 62% of those sitting national college entrance exams last year, but only 17% of those entering the elite Tsinghua University…

There are promising pilot projects that attempt to tackle the urban-rural gulf: improving education for poorer children; increasing integration. Cities such as Chongqing and Guangdong have been experimenting with limited hukou reform.

But such programmes are often tightly restricted and cover workers who have moved from country to town within a province. In many cases migrants have been wary of switching registration, fearing the compensation for lost land and home is insufficient to establish them in the city…

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