[Documents menu] Documents menu

Rural Surplus Labour to Aid Urbanization of Chinese Towns

China News Digest, 2 October 2001

CND, 10/02/01] Senior agriculture and rural development researchers meeting in Beijing have suggested that local governments in the provinces should focus on channeling more of the supply of surplus rural labour into small towns, the China Daily reported on Saturday.

Doing so will both decrease unemployment in rural villages and also accelerate the process of urbanization in the mainland's small and medium-sized towns, according to experts on urbanization who gathered in Beijing last Friday to attend a symposium on ways to increase employment in small towns.

The symposium was organized by the Department of Professional Training and Employment, part of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

Urbanization has become an important way to absorb the surplus rural labour force, said department head XIN Changxing.

He added that through urbanization, the number of rural residents working in cities increased by 7.8 million last year, compared with baseline figures from 1999. In mainland parlance urbanization refers both to the development of larger cities and to that of smaller cities, towns, and villages.

According to YE Xingqing, deputy director of the Department of Rural Areas under the State Council Research Office, at least 3.6 trillion yuan (US$435 billion) will be required to reconstruct the current 18,000 towns in existence, and another 4.8 trillion (US$580 billion) if 12,000 new towns are to be built.

Such investment will greatly promote the development of the national economy, said Mr Ye, who noted that such policies could play an important role in persuading farmers to migrate to towns and villages rather than to the largest cities.

The reform of a residency registration system is necessary, wanton collecting of fees from farmers should be forbidden, and farmers' contracts of land use in their rural homes should be kept for a period after they move into towns, suggested CHEN Liangbiao, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Researchers at the conference noted however that the development of small towns should also keep pace with that of major cities in the mainland.

To date the mainland has not lifted the formal restrictions intended to prevent the immigration of farmers into cities, out of concern that uncontrolled population flows into urban areas (due primarily to the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas) would lead to a crisis. Many rural migrants currently ignore these formal restrictions.

Some mainland experts believe that medium and large cities are more capable of absorbing labor, due to their better-developed tertiary commerce. Other analysts argue that rural workers should be urged to migrate to small cities and towns instead, in order to alleviate the pressure on bigger cities. (Laurel Mittenthal)