Legitimizing and Contesting Exclusion: Discussions about Shiminhua in Urban China

In the past decade Chinese officials, scholars, and journalists have made the term ‘shiminhua’ a buzzword in discussions of the country’s urbanization. An innovation of PRC writers, the term relates to the problem of turning new urban residents into
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  Legitimising and Contesting Exclusion: Discussions about Shiminhua in Urban China Mobrand ErikChina: An International Journal, Volume 13, Number 2, August 2015, pp.108-122 (Article)Published by NUS Press Pte LtdFor additional information about this article Access provided by Seoul National University (23 Sep 2017 13:09 GMT) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/589974  © China: An International Journal 108  CIJ   Volume 13 Number 2 (August 2015): 108 – 122 COMMENTS & NOTES Legitimising and Contesting Exclusion: Discussions about Shiminhua   in Urban China  Erik MOBRAND In the past decade, Chinese officials, scholars and journalists have made the term “shiminhua” a buzzword in discussions of the country’s urbanisation.  An innovation of writers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the term relates to the problem of turning new urban residents into full members of the community, in legal, sociological, attitudinal and/or economic senses. The term is cited to legitimate or contest policies directed at those on the margins of cities. Rather than offering a definition, or even a single English translation, this article tries to make sense of shiminhua by linking it to several themes. Laden with ambiguities, problematic assumptions and elite prejudice, the term is of little analytic value. Nonetheless, rhetoric about shiminhua cuts to the core of conflicts over legitimate membership in urban communities. The term’s use offers a window into debates over major issues in China’s  political and social development, including the extent of police control, legitimation of social stratification and the sort of welfare regime the country should build. Urbanisation is one of the major social changes that have accompanied China’s economic growth. Leaders Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang have made the growth of cities a cornerstone of their plans for achieving prosperity. Xi’s “Chinese dream” calls for the country’s population to be 70 per cent urban by 2030, up from just over 50 per cent today. 1  Understanding how the urban transformation unfolds is thus crucial for making sense of political, economic and social change in contemporary China.  Within China, debates rage on how urbanisation should proceed and what institutional reforms are needed. This article examines a section of these debates through analysis of one intriguing concept, shiminhua  .In December 2013 Xi Jinping made a speech on the country’s urbanisation plans. The first of the six priorities identified by Xi was to promote shiminhua   of the 1  Robert Lawrence Kuhn, “Xi Jingping’s Chinese Dream”, The New York Times  , 4 June 2013, at <http:// www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/opinion/global/xi-jinpings-chinese-dream.html?pagewanted = all> [6 July 2015].Erik Mobrand (polmej@nus.edu.sg) is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore. He obtained his PhD in Politics from Princeton University. His research interests cover internal migration and urban politics in East Asia, as well as the politics of electoral management in South Korea. His articles have appeared in  Journal of Asian Studies  ,  Modern Asian Studies   and  Journal of Contemporary China  .    L    C   E   109 agricultural population. 2  What is shiminhua  ? The word is not a translation of a foreign term. Before Xi’s speech, the term had been in use among people engaged in debates about China’s cities. In the past decade Chinese officials, scholars and journalists have made the term shiminhua   a buzzword in discussions of the country’s urbanisation. The term has been used in many ways. Most meanings draw attention to problems of turning new urban residents into full members of the community, in legal, socio-logical, attitudinal, and/or economic senses. Part of what makes the term intriguing is that it has been developed indigenously by writers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to make sense of China’s urbanisation.This article introduces the idea of shiminhua   as it has been used by PRC writers.  A survey of writings reveals the term to be fraught with ambiguities. The term’s meaning shifts depending on the author using it. Rather than offering a definition of the term, or even a single English translation, this article shows how discussion of shiminhua relates to conflict over legitimate membership in urban communities. The article connects shiminhua   to four different themes: modernisation, socialisation and marginality, social justice and citizenship, and labour markets and welfare. Seen in light of these themes, the term can be recognised as a rhetorical innovation in political debates over major issues in Chinese society. While the concept of shiminhua   is indigenously developed, writers use the term to engage in debates that are common to industrialising societies.  AN INTRODUCTION TO SHIMINHUA The term shiminhua   was used occasionally in the mid 1990s in discussions of rural migrants in cities. From the early 2000s it became much more frequently used. In 2003, the journal  Jingji yanjiu cankao  published a set of articles on the topic. That research project, “Research on China’s Rural Labour Transfer and Farmers’ shiminhua  ”,  was carried out jointly by prominent research institutes and think tanks, including the State Council Development Research Center and the Communist Party of China Central Policy Research Office. Shiminhua   subsequently became common in academic  writing as well as in news reports.Three groups of former peasants have been targeted as needing shiminhua  . First, it is used to refer to rural-born migrants in cities. Second, the term has been used frequently with reference to the “new generation of migrant workers” (  xinshengdai nongmingong  ), the now-grown children of migrant workers. These new workers, who started coming of age in the mid 2000s, have few connections to rural places. Third, and less often, the term has been used to refer to villagers whose land has been con-verted to urban uses. As cities have expanded, many agricultural lands have been displaced. Residents of these areas have turned to non-agricultural activities for income 2  Wang Yeshe, “Zhongyang chengzhenhua gongzuo huiyi zai Beijing juxing” (Central Urbanisation Work Meeting is Held in Beijing),  Xinhua  , 14 December 2013, at <http://news.xinhuanet.com/video/2013-12/14/c_125859839.htm> [6 July 2015].  110   Erik MOBRAND and have been effectively, if not legally, urbanised. The term has thus come up in discussions of peasants who lose their land ( shidi nongmin ), 3  “urban villages” ( chengzhong cun ),  4  the “three rural problems” ( san nong wenti  ), 5  and specifically the issue of rural-urban conversion ( nong zhuan fei  ). Some authors explicitly exclude certain groups of farmers in cities, such as temporary and seasonal migrants, from discussions of shiminhua  . 6 Two other general points should be noted. First, shiminhua   can refer, like concepts such as “urbanisation”, to a level as well as to a process. Authors write of changes from low to high levels of shiminhua   and also describe that movement by the same term. Second, to authors who use the term, shiminhua indicates a desirable process. That is, those who use the term are advocates of shiminhua  . This normative usage of the term shiminhua   is an indicator that it belongs as much to political speech as to analytical. MODERNISATION The idea of shiminhua   fits nicely with linear conceptions of social change. Indeed, it has been conceived as a component of Chinese modernisation. The logic is parallel. Modernisation theory has produced paired terms: tradition and modernity, local and cosmopolitan, rural and urban, agricultural and industrial, ascriptive and universal. Shiminhua   poses another pair: farmer ( nongmin ) and city resident ( shimin ). The transformation of large numbers of people from the former into the latter is like a component of modernisation. It is a one-way process that is viewed as desirable.  Also, like modernisation theory, some scholars have emphasised objective elements,  while others have included psychological and cultural elements. “ Shiminhua   of farmers”, according to one source, “indicates the process and condition of farmers transferring to cities and gradually becoming shimin . That includes changes of con-sciousness, behaviour, and lifestyle”. 7  Moving into cities is not sufficient to become a shimin . Former farmers become urban citizens only when they start thinking and acting like native urban residents. Like some versions of modernisation theory, some 3  Luo Ling, “Chengshi xinqu jianshe guocheng zhong jiejue nongmin shiminhua wenti de zhengce tantao” (Discussion of Policies to Solve the Problems of Farmers’ shiminhua   during the Process of Building New Urban Areas), Lilun yu dangdai   ( Theory and Contemporary Times  ), no. 8 (2004): 10–2. 4  Ren Shuang, “ ‘Chengzhong cun’ cunmin shiminhuahou de zaijiuye wenti” (The Re-employment Prob-lems of ‘Urban Village’ Villagers after shiminhua  ), Fazhi yu shehui   ( Law and Society  ), no. 10 (2008): 294. 5  Zhang Zhongfa and Shen He, “Laowu jingji: nongmin shiminhua de zuida dongliyuan” (Labour Economy: The Biggest Motive for Farmers’ shiminhua  ),  Jingji yanjiu cankao  ( Economic Research Reference  ) 5, no. 1677 (2003): 8–13. 6  Zhang Zhongfa and Sheng Weijun, “Nongmin shiminhua de qushi yu guonei xiangguan lilun xuepai de zhuzhang” (Trends in Farmers’ shiminhua and the Proposals of the Relevant Schools of Thought),  Jingji yanjiu cankao ( Economic Research Reference  ) 5, no. 1677 (2003): 3–4. 7  Zhang and Sheng, “ Nongmin shiminhua de qushi yu guonei xiangguan lilun xuepai de zhuzhang  ” (Trends in Farmers’ shiminhua and the Proposals of the Relevant Schools of Thought), p. 3.    L    C   E   111  writing on shiminhua   has a condescending tone towards those viewed as backward. For example, some authors claim that obstacles to shiminhua   include the low aptitude ( suzhi  ) of former farmers. 8  In these writings, shiminhua   has undertones of a “civilising” process.The above implies that a shimin  is far more than a person who lives and works in a city. In discussions of shiminhua  , a shimin  is a legal and cultural category. One influential report defines a shimin along four dimensions: spatial (residing in cities), occupational (engaged in non-agricultural work), legal (holding urban household registration) and “consciousness, behaviour, and lifestyle” (“similar to urban culture”). 9  The last two dimensions take the definition of a shimin  well beyond the usual definitions of an urban resident. By including residence registration status, the definition becomes highly restrictive. This legal aspect is clearly specific to the PRC context. The cultural dimension suggests distinct rural and urban cultures can be identified.The language used in China to describe former farmers in cities is important for making sense of shiminhua  . Migrant workers are often called “ nongmingong  ”, which suggests they are still nongmin . This vocabulary makes the situation different from other societies where they might simply be referred to as migrants. In the PRC, migrants cannot fully shake off the label of nongmin , even if they have been in cities for years. Perhaps the household registration system ( huji zhidu ) contributes to this discourse, by supplying a vocabulary for referring to people as rural or urban depending on their registration rather than their actual place of abode.Urbanisation and shiminhua   are clearly connected. For proponents of shiminhua  , urbanisation does not fully capture the changes that are expected to occur in cities. The claim of shiminhua   is that people themselves also change with urbanisation. In particular, those who are new to cities—and not those already resident—need to change. As a heading in an official newspaper put it, “Urbanisation Is, in Fact, the Shiminhua of People, Not the Urbanisation of Land” ( chengshihua shuo daodi shi ren de shiminhua, er bu shi tudi de chengshihua  ). 10  In discussions of shiminhua  , modernisation is seen to involve the process of individuals changing from being nongmin  to shimin . SOCIALISATION AND MARGINALITY  Concerns about the socialisation of newcomers to the city figure prominently in dis-cussions of shiminhua  . Rural migrant workers have few opportunities to be socialised into urban life. Their segregation can be thorough. Those in factories or on construction 8  Jiang Zuopei, “Nongmin shiminhua bixu tupo wu da zhangai” (Five Barriers that the shiminhua   of Farmers must Break Through), Chengshi guihua   ( Urban Planning  ) 27, no. 12 (2003): 68. 9  Zhang and Sheng, “Nongmin shiminhua de qushi yu guonei xiangguan lilun xuepai de zhuzhang” (Trends in Farmers’ shiminhua and the Proposals of the Relevant Schools of Thought), p. 3. 10  Gao Yuncai, “Chengshihua buneng ‘dayuejin’” (Urbanisation Cannot Make a ‘Great Leap Forward’), Renmin ribao  ( People’s daily  ), 14 February 2011, at <http://society.people.com.cn/GB/1063/13909007.html> [6 July 2015].
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