|China Table of Contents
China has restricted internal movement in various ways. Official efforts to limit free migration between villages and cities began as early as 1952 with a series of measures designed to prevent individuals without special permission from moving to cities to take advantage of the generally higher living standards there.
The party decreased migration to cities during the 1960s and 1970s for economic and political reasons. In the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, large numbers of urban youths were "sent down" to the countryside for political and ideological reasons. Many relocated youths were eventually permitted to return to the cities, and by the mid-1980s most had done so.
The success of the agricultural reforms under Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and early 1980s dramatically increased the food supply in China's cities, making it possible for more people to come in from rural areas and survive without food ration cards. Because of the increased food supply, the authorities temporarily relaxed the enforcement of migration restrictions. This relaxation, however, was short-lived, and in May 1984 new measures strengthened residence regulations and reinstated official control over internal migration. Additionally, in March 1986 a draft revision of the 1957 migration regulations was presented to the Standing Committee of the Sixth National People's Congress calling for stricter population control policies.
Nonetheless, migration from rural areas to urban centers continued. The problem of too-rapid urbanization was exacerbated by the agricultural responsibility system, which forced a reallocation of labor and left many agricultural workers unemployed.
The central government attempted to control movement through the household registration system and promote development of small cities and towns, but within this system many people were still able to migrate primarily for employment or educational purposes. Leaving their place of official registration for days, months, or even years, unemployed agricultural workers found jobs in construction, housekeeping, or commune-run shops or restaurants. This temporary mobility was permitted by authorities because it simultaneously absorbed a large amount of surplus rural labor, improved the economies of rural areas, and satisfied urban requirements for service and other workers. The most significant aspect of the temporary migration, however, was that it was viewed as a possible initial step toward the development of small, rural-oriented urban centers that could bring employment and urban amenities to rural areas.
Although the temporary migration into the cities was seen as beneficial, controlling it was a serious concern of the central government. An April 1985 survey showed that the "floating" or nonresident population in eight selected areas of Beijing was 662,000, or 12.5 percent of the total population. The survey also showed that people entered or left Beijing 880,000 times a day. In an effort to control this activity, neighborhood committees and work units (danwei) were required to comply with municipal regulations issued in January 1986. These regulations stipulated that communities and work units keep records on visitors, that those staying in Beijing for up to three days must be registered, and that those planning to stay longer must obtain temporary residence permits from local police stations.
Although some cities were crowded, other areas of China were underpopulated. For example, China had little success populating the frontier regions. As early as the 1950s, the government began to organize and fund migration for land reclamation, industrialization, and construction in the interior and frontier regions. Land reclamation was carried out by state farms located largely in Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang Province. Large numbers of migrants were sent to such outlying regions as Nei Monggol Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province to work in factories and mines and to Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region to develop agriculture and industry. In the late 1950s, and especially in the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, many city youths were sent to the frontier areas. Much of the resettled population returned home, however, because of insufficient government support, harsh climate, and a general inability to adjust to life in the outlying regions. China's regional population distribution was consequently as unbalanced in 1986 as it had been in 1953. Nevertheless, efforts were still underway in 1987 to encourage migration to the frontier regions.
In 1987 China had a total of twenty-nine provincial-level administrative units directly under the central government in Beijing. In addition to the twenty-one provinces (sheng), there were five autonomous regions (zizhiqu) for minority nationalities, and three special municipalities (shi)--the three largest cities, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin. (The establishment of Hainan Island as a provincial-level unit separate from Guangdong Province was scheduled to take place in 1988.) A 1979 change in provincial-level administrative boundaries in the northeast region restored Nei Monggol Autonomous Region to its original size (it had been reduced by a third in 1969) at the expense of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces. Urban areas were further subdivided into lower-level administrative units beginning with municipalities and extending down to the neighborhood level.
The pace of urbanization in China from 1949 to 1982 was relatively slow because of both rapid growth of the rural population and tight restrictions on rural-urban migration for most of that period. According to the 1953 and 1982 censuses, the urban population as a percentage of total population increased from 13.3 to 20.6 percent during that period. From 1982 to 1986, however, the urban population increased dramatically to 37 percent of the total population. This large jump resulted from a combination of factors. One was the migration of large numbers of surplus agricultural workers, displaced by the agricultural responsibility system, from rural to urban areas. Another was a 1984 decision to broaden the criteria for classifying an area as a city or town. During 1984 the number of towns meeting the new urban criteria increased more than twofold, and the urban town population doubled. In the mid-1980s demographers expected the proportion of the population living in cities and towns to be around 50 percent by the turn of the century. This urban growth was expected to result primarily from the increase in the number of small- and medium-sized cities and towns rather than from an expansion of existing large cities.
China's statistics regarding urban population sometimes can be misleading because of the various criteria used to calculate urban population. In the 1953 census, urban essentially referred to settlements with populations of more than 2,500, in which more than 50 percent of the labor force were involved in nonagricultural pursuits. The 1964 census raised the cut-off to 3,000 and the requirement for nonagricultural labor to 70 percent. The 1982 census used the 3,000/70 percent minimum but introduced criteria of 2,500 to 3,000 and 85 percent as well. Also, in calculating urban population, the 1982 census made a radical change by including the agricultural population residing within the city boundaries. This explains the dramatic jump in urban population from the 138.7 million reported for year-end 1981 to the 206.6 million counted by the 1982 census. In 1984 the urban guidelines were further loosened, allowing for lower minimum population totals and nonagricultural percentages. The criteria varied among provinciallevel units.
Although China's urban population--382 million, or 37 percent of the total population in the mid-1980s--was relatively low by comparison with developed nations, the number of people living in urban areas in China was greater than the total population of any country in the world except India and the Soviet Union. The four Chinese cities with the largest populations in 1985 were Shanghai, with 7 million; Beijing, with 5.9 million; Tianjin, with 5.4 million; and Shenyang, with 4.2 million. The disproportionate distribution of population in large cities occurred as a result of the government's emphasis after 1949 on the development of large cities over smaller urban areas. In 1985 the 22 most populous cities in China had a total population of 47.5 million, or about 12 percent of China's total urban population. The number of cities with populations of at least 100,000 increased from 200 in 1976 to 342 in 1986 (see table 8, Appendix A).
In 1987 China was committed to a three-part strategy to control urban growth: strictly limiting the size of big cities (those of 500,000 or more people); developing medium-sized cities (200,000 to 500,000); and encouraging the growth of small cities (100,000 to 200,000). The government also encouraged the development of small market and commune centers that were not then officially designated as urban places, hoping that they eventually would be transformed into towns and small cities. The big and medium-sized cities were viewed as centers of heavy and light industry, and small cities and towns were looked on as possible locations for handicraft and workshop activities, using labor provided mainly from rural overflow.
Emigration and Immigration
Through most of China's history, strict controls prevented large numbers of people from leaving the country. In modern times, however, periodically some have been allowed to leave for various reasons. For example, in the early 1960s, about 100,000 people were allowed to enter Hong Kong. In the late 1970s, vigilance against illegal migration to Hong Kong was again relaxed somewhat. Perhaps as many as 200,000 reached Hong Kong in 1979, but in 1980 authorities on both sides resumed concerted efforts to reduce the flow.
In 1983 emigration restrictions were eased as a result in part of the economic open-door policy. In 1984 more than 11,500 business visas were issued to Chinese citizens, and in 1985 approximately 15,000 Chinese scholars and students were in the United States alone. Any student who had the economic resources, from whatever source, could apply for permission to study abroad. United States consular offices issued more than 12,500 immigrant visas in 1984, and there were 60,000 Chinese with approved visa petitions in the immigration queue.
Export of labor to foreign countries also increased. The Soviet Union, Iraq, and the Federal Republic of Germany requested 500,000 workers, and as of 1986 China had sent 50,000. The signing of the United States-China Consular Convention in 1983 demonstrated the commitment to more liberal emigration policies. The two sides agreed to permit travel for the purpose of family reunification and to facilitate travel for individuals who claim both Chinese and United States citizenship. Emigrating from China remained a complicated and lengthy process, however, mainly because many countries were unwilling or unable to accept the large numbers of people who wished to emigrate. Other difficulties included bureaucratic delays and in some cases a reluctance on the part of Chinese authorities to issue passports and exit permits to individuals making notable contributions to the modernization effort.
The only significant immigration to China has been by the overseas Chinese, who in the years since 1949 have been offered various enticements to return to their homeland. Several million may have done so since 1949. The largest influx came in 1978-79, when about 160,000 to 250,000 ethnic Chinese fled Vietnam for southern China as relations between the two countries worsened. Many of these refugees were reportedly settled in state farms on Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
More about the Population of China.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress