China's Minorities on the Move: Selected Case Studies

By Davin, Delia | The China Journal, January 2005 | Go to article overview

China's Minorities on the Move: Selected Case Studies


Davin, Delia, The China Journal


China's Minorities on the Move: Selected Case Studies, by Robyn Iredale, Naran Bilik and Fei Guo. Armonk: M. E. Sharps, 2003. xv + 183 pp. US$69.95 (hardcover), US$26.95 (paperback).

This welcome addition to the growing literature on internal migration in China focuses on ethnic minorities. An unintended side effect of the constraints on migration that prevailed for most of the Maoist era was that China's ethnic populations, most of whom inhabit the remote border regions, were on the whole unable to leave those homelands. At the same time, Han migrants, directed to migrate to the interior and especially to the borderlands, arrived in great numbers. Thus ethnic patterns of residence changed in the homelands of the national minorities, while remaining static in most of China.

After the economic reforms the numbers of internal migrants grew rapidly, and patterns of migration changed as voluntary migration became more important than directed migration. In the first chapter, the longest in the book, Robyn Iredale and Fei Guo offer an overview of minority people's migration. They explain that, while the 1990 census data show that the 8 per cent of the population who belonged to an ethnic minority had almost the same propensity to move within provincial boundaries as the majority Han group, they were significantly less likely to engage in long-distance migration. The authors offer comparisons of Han and ethnic-minority migrants in relation to age, gender, education and employment and provide information on the origins and destinations of ethnic migrants. The second chapter focuses on the education of ethnic minorities, the effect of this education on their propensity to migrate, and the education of migrant children in the destination areas. This last is one of the great problems for migrants, whether they are Han or ethnic minority. Although the residence permit system is much less restrictive than in the past, it still serves to exclude migrants from the entitlements enjoyed by permanent residents. Thus the children of a migrant in Beijing or Shanghai are not entitled to attend ordinary local schools unless their parents pay punitively high tuition fees. The result is that most attend schools organized by the migrant communities, and these are poor, ill-equipped and segregated from the host community.

As there are over fifty recognized ethnic groups in China, differing greatly in cultural, linguistic and religious characteristics, there is a limit to the useful generalizations that can be made. The remaining chapters of the book deal with particular ethnic groups or migration streams.

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