Urban villages have proliferated in almost every Chinese city as consequence of the urban sprawl commanded by local governments, sometimes with the purpose of financing their budgets. They expose the imperfections of the double property system, where the government has a monopoly of the primary land market. The term “urban village” (chengzhongcun – 城中村）refers to the situation where the city ends up encircling the village. Most of the farmland has been expropriated and urbanized, and only the villagers’ original homesteads remain. Soaring real estate prices in the surrounding city reduce the possibility of an eventual expropriation and redevelopment of the area.
In the meantime, the original residents make a good profit from renting rooms, mostly to migrant workers who have restricted access to urban formal housing, due to the high prices, and the lack of stable jobs and tax returns. Housing conditions are precarious and villagers are not keen to invest much money, hoping for an eventual expropriation. Buildings like the one in these photos date from the 1950s. They are made of mud bricks and have dirt floors, water leakages are frequent, and some lack running water. The average rent is around 50€ for a 15 square meter room. Migrant workers adrift on the fringes of citizenship.
“It’s almost like another Great Leap Forward,” says Gao Yu, China country director for the Landesa Rural Development Institute, in Seattle. Unsustainable urbanization practices—such as current large-scale programs to move farmers into apartments in towers with often generous but short term compensation—must be urgently addressed by Chinese leadership. The Chinese government has been pledging a comprehensive urbanization plan for more than two years now. The plan—which is supposed to include provisions that will give ex-farmers a permanent stream of income from the land they lost, among other measures—was scheduled for presentation at the National People’s Congress last March, but various concerns have delayed a full disclosure. Its formal presentation is now scheduled for the fall.
Ph.D. Urban Planning and Public Policy (Rutgers University, New Jersey); M.Sc. Urban Affairs (Boston University); Architect (Technical University of Lisbon). Urban and regional planning consultant. Research fellow at Instituto de Ciencias Sociais – Universidade de Lisboa.
1. During a widely publicised tour of Shenzhen, China, the new head of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, called for the realisation of the ‘Chinese dream’ — a great national revival.
Shortly after that, the Chinese character meng (dream) was voted ‘character of the year’ in an online poll of 50,000 people.
As China enters the urban age, a critical part of the Chinese dream is the ‘urban dream’: the promotion of urbanisation to generate household consumption to put the economy on a sustainable footing. This would steer China away from its currentexport- and investment-driven growth model, which has long been considered, even by the government, as ‘unbalanced’ and ‘unsustainable’.
Premier-designate Li Keqiang has championed urbanisation for years. Some media pundits are excited by his talk of a new type of urbanisation, though details are scant. Can he do it right and help China reach its urban dream?
2. Dreams are in vogue in mainland China. During a widely publicised tour of Shenzhen, the new head of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping , called for the realisation of the “Chinese dream” – a great national revival. Right after that, the Chinese character meng (dream) was voted “character of the year” in an online poll of 50,000 people.
The new year also began with a political storm over a censored article dreaming of Chinese constitutional reform. Whether those dreams are more like a fantasy than realistic hope remains to be seen.
China has experienced more than two decades of rapid urbanization. Migration from the countryside into cities has been the main driver of urban growth. Rural-urban migration is thus playing an increasingly important role in shaping the economic and demographic landscape of Chinese cities.
The hukou system in China is a household registration system that functions as a domestic passport system to regulate the migration of people, especially from rural to urban areas, and from small cities to large cities. Few other institutions have played a more important role than the hukousystem in defining and prescribing the conditions of social life, politics, and economic development in China.
Luo, Rumin. “Across the institutional passage of migration : Hukou system in China”. InterDisciplines : journal of history and sociology, 2012, 3(1), 120-147. Full text available online.
In: Global COE Hi-Stat Discussion Paper Series, February 2012
This paper provides a new explanation for China’s extremely low consumption-to-GDP
ratio, highlighting the constraints of the “household registration system” (Hukou) on
China’s household consumption. Our baseline results show that the consumption of
migrants without an urban Hukou is 30.7% lower than that of urban residents. Moreover,
consumption heterogeneity cannot be explained by migration effects, culture, social norms,
habits or some other forms of household heterogeneity. Further studies on the composition
of household consumption have shown that the gaps are largest in areas such as education
and culture, durable goods and health. As both the number and income level of migrants
are rising, the constraining effects of Hukou on household consumption will continue to