The Great Migration: Rural-Urban Migration in China and Indonesia

By Roberts, Kenneth | The China Journal, July 2011 | Go to article overview

The Great Migration: Rural-Urban Migration in China and Indonesia


Roberts, Kenneth, The China Journal


The Great Migration: Rural-Urban Migration in China and Indonesia, edited by Xin Meng and Chris Manning with Li Shi and Tadjuddin Noer Effendi. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2010. xvi + 262 pp. £69.95/US$ 125.00 (hardcover).

The Great Migration: Rural-Urban Migration in China and Indonesia represents a milestone in the study of Chinese migration. After two decades of research on the largest migration in human history, the authors seek to contextualize this process by contrasting it with rural-urban migration in Indonesia. Moreover, their carefully constructed data set offers the potential to study the evolution of this dynamic process over time from a variety of perspectives, much as the Mexican Migration Project did for international migration from Mexico to the United States.

What makes this edited volume unique is that it is the first output of the Rural-Urban Migration in China and Indonesia (RUMiCI) project, which will collect and analyze longitudinal data on migrants in two very dynamic countries in Asia. This volume not only sets up the baseline data but, in the five chapters on Chinese migration, carefully analyzes that data using sophisticated econometrics to address important and contemporary social issues. This is, in itself, an important contribution to migration studies. What it promises to contribute through annual surveys, some with the same respondents, is icing on the cake.

The Great Migration has three unique components. First, it contrasts the migration experience of two of the three largest developing countries in the world, China and Indonesia. The differences between patterns of migration in these countries are striking: China has one of the world's most restrictive migration policies, akin to guest-worker programs in other countries. Chinese migrants cannot easily change their legal residence to the city, and if they do so they lose their land in the countryside. The consequences of this policy are familiar to readers of The China Journal - migrants work in jobs that urban residents will not take, they maintain a residence in the rural area and continue to work their land unproductively, they usually leave their school-age children at home when they come to the cities, and they intend for the most part to return to their rural home to retire or start a business. The macro consequences of this system are large gaps between the earnings of migrants and urban residents, and between rural and urban areas. Indonesia, by contrast, has a relatively open policy, and migration there began much earlier than in China. Migrants work in the informal sector and live in undisguised slums, which the Chinese policy is designed to avoid. These very different migration policies provide a natural experiment on the costs and benefits of relatively free migration.

The second component is survey design. The China portion consists of three separate surveys, a Rural Survey of 8,000 households in ten provinces, an Urban Survey of 5,000 urban residents in 19 cities, and an Urban Migrant Survey of 5,000 households in fifteen cities. It is the last that is unique, for it avoids the usual sample frame of registered migrant households and focuses instead on the places where migrants work. In randomly selected areas in each city, a census of all businesses was conducted and a random selection of migrants from each chosen to interview. …

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