By Violet Law
Migration has been a familiar part of China’s history through the centuries, with Chinese explorers roaming the globe and traders following in their wake.
Millions left, from the south of the country in particular, to escape famine and poverty, eventually settling and setting up vibrant communities throughout Southeast Asia. Today, in virtually every country across the world, there are communities – some big, some small – whose forebears emigrated from China.
As large as this emigration has been, it is dwarfed by migration within the country.
In the 1950s, following the Soviet Union’s lead, the Communist Party government, which took power in 1949, followed a policy of developing heavy industries.
Farmers flocked to urban centres to work on production lines, encouraged by a relatively relaxed attitude to internal migration by the central authorities, which aided this mass movement. By the end of the 1950s, 20 per cent of the population had settled in cities, predominantly in the eastern half of the country.
During the 1960s the policy radically changed: a “rustication movement” was inaugurated, with millions of party cadres, intellectuals and students forcibly sent to the countryside. Continuing urbanisation was condemned as being bourgeois: instead people had to learn from those working in the commune movement out in the country.
This policy was only reversed after the death of Mao Tse Tung in 1976 and the gradual unveiling of economic policies more open to the outside world in the late 1970s. With a move towards a more market-orientated form of economic development foreign investment was welcomed. Special economic zones were set up to entice domestic and foreign industries.
China began to grow at breakneck speed, with large numbers of workers providing relatively cheap labour the key. People migrated from rural to urban areas – mainly from west to east – in their millions.
This article is taken from the Ethical Journalism Network's report 'Moving Stories - International Review of How Media Cover Migration'
Read the other sections of the report here