Transforming urban villages: social stratification in migrant communities in China

Fei Guo, Zhanxin Zhang

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


The importance of the divide between urban and rural areas in China has been well recognized in the literature of Chinese demography, especially migration studies (Cheng and Selden, 1994; Yang, 1993). Migration in general and rural to urban migration in particular in the pre-reform era was strictly controlled. Since the implementation of economic reform, China in the past two decades has seen an increasing number of migrants (estimated between 20 to 80 million) moving crossing county boundaries (Solinger, 1999; Liang and Ma 2004), with a significant proportion moving from rural to urban areas. Although many migrants from rural areas moved to cities in search of better life, many from rural areas were only able to take up “3 D” jobs (dirty, dangerous, and demanding) and that were not attractive to the local residents at the earlier decades of the reforms (Yang and Guo, 1996; Guo and Iredale 2004; Wang and Zuo, 1999; Wang, Zuo and Ruan, 2002). In recent years, with the re-structuring of state-run enterprises, changes in labor market in urban areas, and increases in unemployment in urban areas, it has also been observed that an increasing number of former employees of state-run enterprises come to compete with rural migrants for jobs in informal sector, which they previously would not like to take (Cai and Wang, 2003). For many decades, the dichotomy of urban and rural was one of the important determining variables in explaining many social and behavioral differentials, including the patterns and outcomes of rural to urban migration (Guo and iredale, 2004). However, in recent years, with rapid urbanization process and the increasing number of rural to urban migration, the original status and structures of urban communities have been transformed remarkably. The simple rural/urban dichotomy is no longer adequate to provide explanations to many issues in migration, especially the formation and transformation process of migrant communities. Many Chinese cities have been expanding so rapidly in terms of their territorial boundary and population size and the traditional urban communities have been joined by newly transformed and emerged “urban villages”, which traditionally were rural communities. Recognizing the importance of rural/urban dichotomy in understanding some issues of migration in contemporary China, this paper goes one step further to differentiate the status and structure of migrant host communities in cities and attempts to understand to what extent the status and structure of host communities determine the patterns of social stratification within migrant-concentrated communities. The paper discusses two types of communities in Chinese cities in terms of administrative status, urban resident community, under the administration of Neighborhood Committee (ju wei hui) and “urban village” which was originally a rural resident community but was converted to be part of urban area but is still under the administration of Village Committee (cun wei hui). The name “urban village” was commonly used to indicate the ambiguous nature and transforming role of this type of newly emerged communities. With rapid urbanization and expansion of urban boundaries in recent decades, some agricultural lands in the periphery areas of large Chinese cities have been re-zoned into residential or commercial areas. The original rural resident communities, administrated by Village Committees, have been transformed into semi-urban and semi-rural territory, where the housing ownership still remain in the hands of rural residents and the land use rights belong to collective. It is those newly transformed “urban villages”, together with some disadvantaged urban resident communities, that have attracted a large number of migrants and their families.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the ACESA 2006 international conference
Subtitle of host publicationemerging China : internal challenges and global implications
Place of PublicationMelbourne, Vic
PublisherCentre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University
ISBN (Print)9781862726727
Publication statusPublished - 2006
EventACESA 2006 International conference 2006 - emerging China : internal challenges and global implications - Melbourne, Vic.
Duration: 13 Jul 200614 Jul 2006


ConferenceACESA 2006 International conference 2006 - emerging China : internal challenges and global implications
CityMelbourne, Vic.


  • labour migration, China
  • population, China
  • social stratification, China


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