Six Books to Better Understand China's Rural Migration Problem
Peng Xiaoling
/SOURCE : Yicai
Six Books to Better Understand China's Rural Migration Problem

(Yicai Global) Dec. 22 -- There are 102 Chinese cities with a population of more than one million. The McKinsey Global Institute believes that number will more than double by 2025, and more than one billion people, or 70 percent of the population, will live in cities by 2030.

Once a vehement agricultural power, China has never before seen such large scale urban development, which is posing challenges to local authorities.

Is the vast quantity of people in cities a problem? Is this the reason behind agonizing traffic jams? Should metropolises look to restrict migrants, or attract more? The following six books dive into the problem at hand and give insights into urban development and planning that could help China tackle this burgeoning transition.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Written by Jane Jacobs

Originally published in 1961: Random House, New York

Published in Chinese in 2006: Yilin Press (Second Edition)

Jane Jacobs was once a reported covering urban reconstruction plans, and through interviews and her writing became suspicious of the traditional urban planning concept. Jacobs' vision different from urban planners of her time, she believed a better approach would be to increase the diversity of urban dwellers, rather than cleaning up the slums. She advocates maintaining small blocks and a range of stores to provide opportunities for people to meet each other in daily scenarios, thereby making the streets safer. Jacobs also suggests that congestion is not triggered by the volume of cars, but rather the distance between residential and commercial areas, which fuels the need for automobiles.

The book has been a literature hit in the urban planning field since publication, exerting a profound impact on debates over urban revival. Nearly sixty years have passed since then, yet the book still offers reference for modern day China, which is only now experiencing the issues the US faced so many years ago.

Arrival City

Written by Doug Saunders

Originally published in 2011: Windmill

Published in Chinese in 2012: Shanghai Translation Publishing House

Author Doug Saunders was a journalist inspired by an interview with Jane Jacobs, after which he decided to write a book on migration from rural to urban areas.

He began a journey across the globe in 2007, leaving Europe to visit the Indian subcontinent, China, and North America and communicate with the lower classes in Kenya and Rio de Janeiro. He has visited dozens of countries and regions across five continents.

Saunders found that rural migrants around the world were creating similar urban spaces in their respective countries. He refers to these urban areas as 'arrival cities.' They are neither in the mainstream spotlight nor on tourist maps, but are full of hope and vitality despite suffering indifference and misunderstanding.

He believes these areas are creating history, and that indifference toward the regions has stirred riots in Paris, London and Amsterdam. In Asia, Africa and South America, reckless slum clearing plans are destroying the lives and futures of tens of thousands of people, some of which take extreme or even violent measures to land a home in the city. Saunders expects these arrival cities will be the birthplace of the next wave of economic and cultural prosperity, but could also be the home of severe violent conflicts. 

Great State Needs Bigger City

By Lu Ming

Originally published in Chinese in 2016: Shanghai People's Publishing House

Rising property prices, pollution and congestion… with the acceleration of urbanization in China, these problems are becoming increasingly severe. Big city development has already become a key challenge for the central government, but can it control the population of certain cities by limiting citizen mobility through administrative measures? 

MAfter collecting data from 142 countries, economist Lu Ming found that in market economy countries, the population of the largest city correlates to the nation's total population and the two grow in sync. China's metropolises can therefore not be controlled through administrative measures, Lu suggests. Beijing and Shanghai are not too big, they are too small. Chinese migrants will continue to gather in southeastern coastal areas for quite some time, she believes. But even if the urban population increases, there is no need to worry about the big cities becoming overcrowded.

Lu believes that the government should tease out its social problems, rather than forcibly control them, and build infrastructure and public services to cater to expanding populations.

The City in Histor

By Lewis Mumford

Originally published in 1961: Harcourt, Brace and World, New York

Published in Chinese in 2005: China Architecture & Building Press

The City in History was one of the most significant theoretic works by Lewis Mumford, a renowned American urban studies theorist and social philosopher. In this book, he focuses on humanity and history to comprehensively demonstrate the origin and development of cities.

Mumford goes all the way back to the Paleolithic era to discover the origin of cities, where he believes the very first group of people to establish a permanent residence passed away. From there, humans began to shape early communities, which were the embryos for modern day cities. 

The author touches on philosophy, history, society and culture and reflects on the value of metropolises in modern day society.

Strangers in the City

By Zhang Li 

Originally published in 2002: Stanford University Press

Published in Chinese in 2014: Jiangsu People's Publishing

China's reform and opening up has brought about a rare mass migration. Over the past 30 years, more than 200 million Chinese peasants have left their hometowns to seek employment and business opportunities in cities. This phenomenon has profoundly affected the political and economic structures of contemporary China.

The book was written in the mid-1990s, when a large number of rural laborers were flowing into cities. They relied on their kinship to set up independent communities in the cities where they worked, but there was an inevitable collision between locals and outsiders.

Through the development, prosperity, demolition and reconstruction of a typical outsider community in Fengtai, Beijing, the author exhibit the reconstruction of space and social relations and the establishment of cross-regional contact networks triggered by population flow, revealing changes in China's social governance patterns.

Garden Cities of To-morrow

By Ebenezer Howard

Originally published in 1898: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.

Published in Chinese in 2010: The Commercial Press

In the late 19th century, after the British industrial revolution, cities experienced dramatic changes, exposing such urban issues as overpopulation, environmental pollution, strikes and income gaps. Given the problems at hand, the London government commissioned Howard, a British urban planner, to conduct a survey and put forward plans for restructure.

Although the book was published over 100 years ago, it's still relevant today due to China's current rapid urban development. The mass migration is turning small cities into medium-sized cities, and medium-sized cities into megacities. Many of the views in this book could be useful in establishing how best to tackle this change.

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Keywords: Rural Migration , Urbanization , Urban Development , Population Growth