Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

The Hukou System, Rural Institutions, and Migrant Integration in China

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

The Hukou System, Rural Institutions, and Migrant Integration in China

Article excerpt


This article presents evidence that factors in rural areas influence migrant integration into China's cities. We argue that the value of the rural registration influences migrants' decision-making and identities by creating a cost to registration transfer to the city, and that the rural land system interacts with the household registration system to inhibit migrant integration. We test novel hypotheses derived from a simple model of migrant integration, finding connections between rural sending area factors and migrant integration in the city. We test these hypotheses using survey data from two surveys of rural-to-urban migrant workers and publicly available economic data. We find that migrants from areas with higher levels of economic development are less likely to desire registration transfer to the city. We also find that landholding and weaker rural and rights are associated with lower levels of social integration in the city.


China, household registration system, hukou, land tenure security, migrant integration, migration, rural policy, urbanization


In China, the household registration system has restricted the integration of China's hundreds of millions of internal migrants by excluding people who are not locally registered from accessing all of a locality's public services, such as health care, subsidized housing, pension schemes, and education. The registration system has led to the institutional exclusion of migrants in China's cities, and has left many migrants with a kind of second-class citizenship (Solinger 1999; Wu and Webster 2010, 1). Yet today migrants often have a choice of whether or not to transfer their household registration to their migration destination, even if this choice entails costs which vary across cities. That many migrants have not chosen to transfer their registration when given the option has prompted debate about the importance of the registration system serving as an impediment to migrant integration.

In order to better understand migrant integration in reform-era China, this article examines the importance of rural institutions to the process of migrant integration, including both attitudes towards registration transfer and social integration. While some previous studies have posited a connection between rural factors and migrant integration, in this article we develop a simple model for understanding migrants' decision-making, bring together several data sources which can be used to examine these questions, use this data to conduct new empirical tests of hypotheses both from the literature and derived from the model, and make an original argument about the effect of rural factors on migrants' social integration in Chinese cities. Namely, we argue that the variable value of rural registration (1) influences migrants' decision-making with regard to registration transfer, resulting in migrants with land and migrants from rural areas with relatively higher levels of economic development being measurably less interested in registration transfer to this city. Furthermore, since the household registration is connected to social integration in the process of shiminhua--transforming into urban citizens--the institutional integration signified by local urban registration is linked to other types of integration. Thus, we posit that the effect of these rural factors extends beyond migrants' decisions about adoption of local urban registration to influence migrants' levels of social integration in the cities as well.

Migrant integration, both institutional and social, is important not only to the welfare of China's hundreds of millions of migrants but also to China's economic plans which are premised on building internal consumption through urbanization. Based on our analysis of survey data, data from official sources, and interviews with the stakeholders, we find that migrant integration in China's cities is connected to factors in the migrants' sending areas. …

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