Politics of cityward migration: an overview of China in comparative perspective

This paper focuses on the kind of politics that can be expected to result from Chinese migration from rural to urban areas. It speculates on the emerging trends from China and compares them with politics that have resulted from migration in other
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  Habitat International 30 (2006) 261–274 Politics of cityward migration: an overview of China incomparative perspective Erik Mobrand  Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA Abstract This paper focuses on the kind of politics that can be expected to result from Chinese migration fromrural to urban areas. It speculates on the emerging trends from China and compares them with politics thathave resulted from migration in other countries, especially in Latin America. In countries such as Mexicoand Peru, residents in neighborhood communities have been particularly interested in organizing politicallyto gain good housing, secure tenure and urban services. As this study shows, in China, the priorities aresomewhat different as a result of the conditions of migration. Chinese urban migrants rarely build theirown houses, either living in employer-provided accommodation or renting rooms from establishedresidents. Although this eliminates one basis for political development and activity, a second, moreimportant force works through what are called here native-place networks, referring to allegiance andcontinuing ties to places of srcin. This takes number of forms, affecting attitudes toward employmentconditions but also urban services, such as the provision of schools and health care for migrant families inthe destination area. Such ties have become institutionalized in the sense that governments of srcinatingareas see such migration as a continuing source of remittances and therefore do what they can to encouragethem. The importance of hometown networks as a source of political activity may change in future, butonly if the housing habits change away from the dependence of migrants upon rental housing. r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords:  Rural-to-urban migration; Local politics; native-place networks; China ARTICLE IN PRESS 0197-3975/$-see front matter r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.habitatint.2004.02.001  Tel.: +1-609-258-4839; fax: +1-609-258-0482. E-mail address: (E. Mobrand).  Introduction What kinds of politics emerge from the large-scale shift of population from rural to urbanareas that has taken place in reform-era China? Chinese urban elites have followed thoseelsewhere in fearing the worst from large numbers of new arrivals in town. Even when theeconomic advantages of in-migration are recognized, migrants remain suspects of social andpolitical instability. At its most theoretical, the globally recurring idea that migrants bringinstability to cities takes the form of expectations that a discrepancy between migrants’grievances and channels for articulating them would prompt ex-peasant urban populationsto rise up (Coleman, 1960; Pye, 1969; Weiner, 1960). 1 A boom of urban community studiesin the 1960s and 1970s has shown these expectations to be misplaced for other developingsocieties.Developing cities across the globe have faced rapid in-migration, so studies of earlier urbanizingsocieties can provide an idea of what political patterns to expect in China. Students of Chineseurban society can draw on this body of research and learn from international comparison. Aremigrants to Chinese cities bringing similar sorts of politics?Many studies of migrant politics in other societies center on residential communities. Wheremigrants have squatted and established informal settlements, their interaction with governmenthas tended to focus on issues of tenure and access to services. The pattern of housing itself createscommon interests and contributes to an organizational form that facilitates collective demandmaking. These limited demands for individual household interests contrast sharply with theunruly expressions of deep dissatisfaction that migrants were expected to bring to cities. Whereand when these demands have been met, residence networks have tended to lose their ability torepresent migrants’ interests.In China, neighborhood-based groupings have been less important for migrant politics. Theprevalence of renting and workplace housing has prevented migrants to Chinese cities fromentering neighborly alliances with each other. In particular, the dispersal of workplace housingthroughout the city and the interspersal of landlords among renters has inhibited the developmentof neighborhoods in which households share interests. Only in migrant enclaves has aneighborhood politics similar to that elsewhere emerged, but this has diverged from internationalpatterns because community organization has been underpinned by native-place and occupationalnetworks.What is most striking in the Chinese case is the role of native-place networks. This kind of organization is found in many societies but is especially strong in China. Hometown ties that spanlocation of residence have become an important basis for migrant politics in Chinese cities. Thistraditional form of organization has been reinforced by more recent situations and policies. Thefunction of hometown ties can be compared internationally, as can their relation to patterns of migrant politics. By doing so, this paper outlines possible implications of native-place networksfor politics in Chinese cities. ARTICLE IN PRESS 1 Another thesis was that the second generation of city migrants would tend toward radicalism. For an example of this, see Huntington (1968, pp. 278–283). E. Mobrand / Habitat International 30 (2006) 261–274 262  Informal settlements and neighborhood politics In many developing cities, large numbers of migrants have eventually congregated in informalhousing settlements. One model (Turner, 1970), based on data from Lima, suggests that migrantsfirst rent shelter in core urban districts near their workplaces. As they establish themselves inthe city, they tend to move to informal settlements. This has been considered an importanthousing pattern in Latin America, but is relevant elsewhere. Recent evidence from South Africa,e.g., suggests that urban housing trends there are converging with this pattern (Gilbert &Crankshaw, 1999).The development of an informal housing community brings with it organization and leadershipthat persists beyond neighborhood formation. The initial act of land invasion requirestremendous cooperation and planning. Once their shacks are up, neighbors come together forthe construction of community facilities, such as daycare centers, schools, healthcare clinics, andrecreation centers. The degree of community cooperation varies widely across neighborhoods. InLima’s barrios, high levels of community cooperation have been observed (Turner, 1970; Soto, 1989, pp. 17–57), but very low levels in some Mexico City migrant neighborhoods (Lomnitz,1977). J. Perlman (1976, p. 133) describes a  favela  in Rio in which two-thirds of the residentsbelonged to community organizations. This contrasts with the Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela,neighborhood studied by L. Peattie (1968), in which there was a high turnover of residence andlittle cooperation between neighbors.Leadership is provided by formal associations or by rural leadership types, such as  caciques  inLatin America (see Cornelius, 1975, pp. 139–145). These vary in power within the community andvis a ` vis urban authorities. Some are elected by neighborhood association members. Landinvasion participants or organizers who emerge in the process of community building often fillleadership positions (see, e.g., Mangin, 1973, pp. 317–318).Informal settlements tend to be a mix of people born in the countryside and in the city. Instudies in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, three-quarters was a common proportion of migrants (Collier, 1976; Lomnitz, 1977; Roberts, 1973). A survey of settlement reports to the mid- 1970s finds that migrants accounted for at least half of the residents (Portes & Walton, 1976).Migrants to Latin American cities could find housing interests in common with other sectors of the urban population. A land invasion group might be formed through word-of-mouthcommunication that does not discriminate between migrants and non-migrants. In a Limainvasion, one faction of the committee was made up of migrants and another of urbanites workingin the same sector (Mangin, 1973, pp. 327–330).Besides neighborhood organization, informal settlement residents have common interests.These tend to be tenure and the provision of services. A survey of migrant neighborhoods inMexico City showed tenure to be the overwhelming concern of squatters (Cornelius, 1975). Aftertenure, the extension of public infrastructure to their neighborhoods is next in importance. Thetype of housing is again important for this. In another Mexico City migrant neighborhood, wheremost residents were tenants, interests in security and services were not expressed collectively(Lomnitz, 1977). The exceptions in that neighborhood were occasional, narrow movements, suchas an effort to petition authorities for installation of a public water faucet (Lomnitz, 1977, p. 184).These interests are quite limited, for specific items rather than for broad social goals. They aregenerally pursued through peaceful means; an exception might be resistance to police and ARTICLE IN PRESS E. Mobrand / Habitat International 30 (2006) 261–274  263  bulldozers. Neighborhood leaders might organize groups to petition at local government offices(Cornelius, 1975). Some services, like public transportation and sometimes law enforcement, canbe provided by migrants themselves (Soto, 1989, pp. 98–105). Other services, such as electricity,can be tapped illegally until the local government gives in (see Bayat, 1997).Evidence suggests that poor neighborhoods in Latin America are far less prone to radicalattitudes and political action than to pragmatism (Portes, 1972). Radicalism and sustainedpolitical activism have only arisen in informal settlements when outside organizations havemobilized residents for those purposes (Gay, 1994; Portes, 1971; Ray, 1969; Schneider, 1995). How expressions of shared household concerns play out depends on the broader politicalcontext. Neighborhood leaders might be coopted by urban politicians and prevent communitydemands from being articulated (Eckstein, 1988). In countries with elections, politicians often tryto gain the support of squatter settlements. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, unlikeformal labor, they lack strong organization for responding if their demands are not met (Ray,1969, p. 146). Second, the demands of squatters are easy to meet. Granting tenure, extendingpublic services, or even just distributing house numbers are not costly measures. This method of gaining votes is open to candidates of any ideological slant. Experience suggests that the largerpolitical agenda of candidates matters less to informal residents than does the specific set of rewards offered.Moreover, the limited nature of informal communities’ demands has implications for a patternof politics, regardless of the political environment. Because the demands can be easily metand do not increase, their political activity tends to decline once tenure and services have beenextended to them. Community political associations in informal settlements are aptlycharacterized as transitory organizations (Butterworth & Chance, 1981). Evidence for thiscomes from all over Latin America. In Mexico City, migrants were found to stop petitioningas their demands for tenure and services were met (Cornelius, 1975). In Chile and Peru, itwas noted that community organization atrophied over time; neighborhoods with housescloser to completion had less active community organizations than those less established(Goldrich et al., 1970). In Chilean shantytowns, organization declined once tenure and publicservices were obtained. This suggests organization was a practical response to common needs(Portes, 1972). Housing patterns and migrant politics in china Migrants to Chinese cities live in housing arrangements and according to spatial distributionsthat differ from their Latin American counterparts. 2 Self-constructed housing and homeownership are both uncommon among migrants to Chinese cities. A 2001 survey estimates thesehousing types to account for only 10% of all people in cities with temporary registration (Gonganbu zhian guanli ju, 2001, pp. 4–5). And these figures do not seem to increase with time in the city.Of the 240,000 non-natives of Beijing found in a 1997 survey to have been living there for at least 5years, only 18,000 built or owned their homes (Beijing shi wailai renkou pucha ziliao bangongshi,1998, pp. 46–47). Informal housing strategies that begin with land invasion remain secondary in ARTICLE IN PRESS 2 A discussion of this can be found in Solinger (1996b, pp. 2–4). E. Mobrand / Habitat International 30 (2006) 261–274 264  China, because other options are available and because the visibility and organization they requirecan be struck down.Instead, a large number of migrants rent rooms or live in work-provided housing. The 2001nation-wide temporary resident survey shows that the majority of migrants were split betweenworkplace housing and rentals (Gongan bu zhian guanli ju, 2001, pp. 4–5). The 1997 Beijingsurvey reports that almost 50% of migrants stayed in work-related housing and another 25% inrented dwellings (Beijing shi wailai renkou pucha ziliao bangongshi, 1998, pp. 8–11). In the sameyear in Shanghai, about one-third of migrants labeled ‘‘temporary’’ lived in dormitories andanother third in rentals (Wu, 2002). Workplace housing Shelter provided by employers varies widely. Factory jobs, especially in foreign-investedenterprises, often mean staying in a dormitory. Many migrants employed by state-owned firmsrent apartments from their work units. Constructions teams are housed in temporary shacks theyput up on their worksites. Service sector workers are also often housed at their place of work.Restaurant jobs come with room and board. Small shop employees sleep in their shops. Youngwomen in domestic service stay with the households for whom they work.Migrant laborers in workplace housing are clearly not integrated into broader residentialcommunities. While many migrants in Latin America could at least return to neighborhoodcommunities at night, many migrants to Chinese cities are segmented both at work and at home, if there is a difference between work and home. Employment-related housing does not providemigrant workers with an opportunity for finding allies among themselves or other urban groupsoutside the workplace. Furthermore, in this type of housing, residential issues fall to the realm of employer–employee relations. Any demands for improvements would first be made to employersrather than to the state. Rented housing Many migrants rent rooms from city or suburban residents, or take rooms in hotels forextended periods. Unlike workplace housing, rentals do tend to be concentrated. In many coastalcities, districts in which migrants far outnumber natives are not uncommon. These districts areoften on the city outskirts, where resident agriculturalists become well-off landlords by buildingextra rooms.Although these ‘‘villages in the city’’ ( chengzhong cun ) resemble Latin American shantytowns inpopulation composition, they imply a different kind of politics. Migrants provide suburbanfarmers with a source of income to replace agriculture, and these landlords in return give cheaphousing. But landlords and hostel-owners need to ensure that migrants stay. This has led to otherforms of cooperation. Landlords do not want their tenants caught without the necessary papers,so they commonly help migrants evade police during raids. Landlords act as a buffer betweenmigrants and local government bureaus. It has been reported that in Guangzhou’s urban villagesanother kind of intermediary has appeared: individuals who specialize in making connections thatallow migrants to send their children to school or evade other regulations, if they can pay the price(Tang and Feng, 2003, p. 233). High crime rates in these areas reflect the lack of police control, ARTICLE IN PRESS E. Mobrand / Habitat International 30 (2006) 261–274  265
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