Friday, April 09, 2010

Ryan Pyle Blog: A Rural Population of 400 million


I live in a mega city; the name of that city is Shanghai. I love my massive city, which is said to be currently bursting at the seams with a population of roughly 20 million people. Whiles the crowds can be intense, I somehow manage to thrive off the energy of the masses. But what will the next 30 years hold?

Whenever I complete a trip in to rural China I am always amazed at how little is there, about how few opportunities exist. While roads and bridges are constantly being build and infrastructure spending is at an all-time high, there are still round 900 million rural residents in China who do very little other than farm, manage a market stall or are involved in basic irregular business. Many of these folks often hold ambitions of moving to the big cities of China, for a chance at a better life, earning a higher wage and having their children attend better schools. So an obvious question looms, how many people can China’s cities really hold?

Can Shanghai really be a functional city with 30 or 40 million residents? Can Beijing’s ill-prepared roads and highway system really handle another one or two million cars? The numbers, once crunched are staggering; and a little scary.

A few weeks back the China Daily, of all sources, ran a story that made me physically shudder. The government of China has predicted that China’s rural population could fall to just 400 million people from its current 900 million. The last 30 years provide most of the proof for this trend of urbanization; you see some 400 million people have moved from the countryside to the cities over the last three decades. So the prediction is that by 2040 there will be another 400 or 500 million people living in China’s cities; that’s an unbelievable figure.

Right or wrong, I am a believer. I strongly believe that China’s urban population will double rapidly increase in the next two or three decades; one only has to visit rural Anhui, Hebei, Henan and Shandong to see how few options exist for those who have chosen to stay closer to home during this current economic boom. As China, over the next 3-5 years eases restrictions on migrant workers and urban registration you could see a flood of people move to the cities, crowding in for better health care and educational services. At the moment the restrictive and complicated Hukou “home registration” system links people to their place of birth, which is often different than where they currently live; and many social benefits can only be claimed in your “home registration” area. This has not restricted the most daring of China’s migrant labor class, but my guess is that once these restrictions are lifted for good, and there is talk of this happening – there will be a biblical flood of people in to urban centers to take advantage of higher living, and service, standards.

So how many of that 500 million will end up in cities like Shanghai? How much more traffic will I have to fight through on my grocery shopping trips? How much longer could the line up get at the bank? My guess is not too many. While 500 million is a large number, my estimate is that Shanghai might double its urban population and become a mega city of 40 million residents. From what I can see at the moment, the creation of suburbs and transportation infrastructure to move people in and out of the city center has hit overdrive. The government is in a real rush to put these pieces in place before Shanghai just becomes a hot and crowded mess.

The real winners in this mass migration, however, will be second tier cities like Hefei, Wuhan, Chongqing, Chengdu, Kunming, Guiyang, Nanning, Xi’an, Dalian, Harbin and other notable provincial capitals. They will, under decent guidance, become more livable and offer better services as their population rises; at least that’s the great hope. Fingers crossed that actually happens or the resulting civil unrest could be a large destabilizing factor to the economy and general political stability. Either way, mass migrations or not, it’ll be an exciting process to watch unfold. I’m very glad I bought my ticket early; I’ve got a front row seat.
The China Daily story is posted below in its original form.

China Daily story LINK:
Copy write: China Daily
Rural population could drop to 400m
February 25, 2010

The country's rural population may drop to 400 million from the current 900 million in the next three decades because of rising urbanization, a senior official has forecast.

The rural population currently stands at 720 million, the latest population figures have shown. But the number does not include the 180 million rural residents who have left their hometowns to live in cities for more than half a year, Han Jun, a senior official at the State Council Development Research Center, was quoted as saying by Beijing News.

In the past 30 years, the urban population has increased by 400 million to hit 600 million. Of these people, 27 percent now live in cities but are not permanent residents.

"Currently, one in four residents in the cities come from the rural population. The current movement of labor from rural to urban areas is expected to continue in the future," Han said.

The country has about 240 million migrant workers, with about half of them born after 1980 and 40 million of them born in the 1990s, the latest official statistics show.

"Young migrant workers are reluctant to go back to the countryside and are eager to be new residents in cities," Han said.

A major policy document released last month addressed the young as "a new generation of migrant workers" for the first time and made it clear that the government is "striving for substantial reform of the household registration system" to help them to register in cities where they can then receive more social benefits.

"Hundreds of millions of farmers are now working for the development of cities and contribute a great deal to tax revenues where they live. However, they cannot enjoy the public services offered in cities. It is not fair," said Zhang Hulin, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC.

New-generation migrant workers mostly live in cities and work as security guards, waiters, construction and decoration laborers, and deliverymen.

"More and more citizens have felt the importance of migrant workers to their daily life. But low wages have also made many migrant workers unwilling to stay and work, especially in big cities," Zhang told China Daily yesterday.

So far, 13 provinces and cities such as Hebei and Liaoning have already piloted a unified household registration in rural and urban areas. But many say the reform falls short of offering benefits in education, housing and social security to the new population, Han said.

Ryan Pyle

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