Fragmented Social Exclusion and Rural-Urban Migration in China: A Case Study of Xi’an

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Cooper, Ian




Rural-urban migration is one of the most significant phenomena characterizing contemporary China. Numbering about 168 million in 2014, the rural-urban migrant population is expected to grow to 230 million by 2030. The impact of migration is such that it influences the economic, social, political and cultural development of urban China. While geographic mobility is no longer restricted by the state and migrants are free to move about the country, it is well documented that migrants face differential access to, and are excluded from, a variety of socio-economic opportunities compared to their local urban counterparts. The dominant discourse explaining the social exclusion of China’s rural-urban migrants has long focused on the impact of the Household Registration System (hukou system), which historically confined individuals to their location or origin, and which continues to influence access to local social services, benefits and resources . Using data derived primarily from interviews with subject matter experts, public officials and migrant workers in the city of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, this paper identifies, compares and contrasts major formal/legal and informal/social factors that contribute to the social exclusion of rural-urban migrants across several socio-economic dimensions, including employment, education, healthcare and housing. The results of this study demonstrate that migrant social exclusion in Xi’an is multidimensional, fragmented across socio-economic dimensions, and more complex than the prevailing hukou-based discourse would suggest.






Carleton University

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