China's Rural Poor Left Stranded as Urbanites Race Ahead

The Guardian follows up on their report on the “breakneck” speed of China’s urbanization with a look at the lives of the people who are left behind in the villages:

“Even though we are developing, it feels like urban areas are running while we are strolling,” says Zhou Liude, who oversees Ruiyuan and nearby schools.

For every one yuan of a rural resident’s income, a city-dweller enjoys 3.23 yuan in disposable income – and that may significantly understate the gap. Include the extra services and benefits enjoyed by urbanites, such as subsidised housing, and “many observers believe that the ratio would easily be in the range of four to five and is arguably among the highest in the world,” says professor Kam Wing Chan, an expert on migrants at the University of Washington.

“China’s incomes are increasingly polarised. This large income gap is definitely a contributor in the background to the more frequent and violent protests and unrest in the last few months.”

Even farmers who reach the cities as migrant workers are in effect second-class citizens, because China’s hukou – household registration – system classifies people as urban or rural and allocates rights to services accordingly. One Chinese academic has described the result as “counterfeit urbanisation”: cities full of people who cannot enjoy much of city life.

October 3, 2011 10:43 PM
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