Small Cities Astride A Social Fault Line

Just A Small City In China Getting Bigger

More than half of China’s population now lives in cities, as has been widely noted, making the country predominantly an urban nation for the first time. Two-thirds to three-quarters will likely do so by 2020. It was one in nine when Mao took power.

Urbanization has been a main prop of rising living standards, and promoted as government policy. Arguably, China’s has been the most managed such migration from farm to factory in history. The flip side of that has been an ever-widening urban-rural income gap. While that has been true for the past 30 years, it was only under the most recent five-year plan that diminishing the gap became a high policy priority. Measures were introduced to support agriculture, farmers and the countryside. They continue under the current five-year plan.

The scale of the migration from country to city is immense, some 300 million people over the two decades to 2020, needing to be provided with shelter and jobs. That is the numerical equivalent of moving the entire populations of Guatemala or Mali or Ecuador every year for 20 years.

China has 661cities by the official count. They have the capacity to absorb some but not all of those arriving from the countryside. China’s list of urban conglomerations with populations in excess of 20 million may soon extend beyond Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, but small towns and cities are designated under the current five-year plan to provide the new homes, jobs and social services that will be required to absorb 40% of the labor coming off the land. As the coastal provinces are transformed into high-end service economies and manufacturing is moved inland, the eastern megalopolises won’t need vast swathes of new unskilled labor. Hence the push to develop satellite towns and second- and third-tier cities in the poorer central and western provinces. Towns and small cities are also seen as a bridge across the urban-rural income divide.

Yet, as recent events in Wukan and a host of other places earlier bear testimony, it is proving to be a troubled passage because of the fault lines in local government and the weak legal framework for land rights. The later has meant that planned rapid development has been possible because land could be taken in the name of a greater public good, but the combination has made the process highly uneven, often exacerbating inequality and sowing social discontent, leaving migrant workers and villagers, in particular, disgruntled and shut out from the benefits urbanization is meant to deliver.

One one estimate, farmland expropriation for urban redevelopment displaced 60 million-70 million people between 1990 and 2007. That is an order of population the size of Thailand, France or Italy. Even the mass migration from Italy to the U.S. at the end of the 19th century over a similar period emptied out only a third of Italy’s population.

The growing pains of towns and small cities across the country, like large ones, are all too evident. Infrastructure development–for roads, sewage, potable water, flood defense–often struggles to keep up with the rapid pace of industrialization and urbanization. Similarly, social services, transport and education. Local environments, and so quality of life, pay a huge cost, too, as land is chewed up for development and inadequate infrastructure fails to prevent the despoiling of what is left.

Some towns and small cities work better than others. Top-down planning going spectacularly wrong, resulting in ghost towns such as the much-ridiculed Ordos in Inner Mongolia, may be the exception to the rule, but the variable results in other places is partly of their own making, partly systemic. There is high variability in both the quantity and quality of trained local officials, in their cosiness with local business interests, and, most importantly, in their relationships with the next level up of government.

That last matters so much because the hodgepodge of tax and bureaucratic powers of small towns are often contested with the next higher level of bureaucracy. As a result, selling land rights to companies and developers from larger cities has become the usual way for town officials to raise funds. Wukan may have been an extreme case, but being bilked out of land by corrupt or incompetent local officials who want to turn it over it for urban development is at the heart of hundreds of thousands of similar if smaller-scale and less prominent disputes and protests every year.

These protests increasingly worry Beijing. The Party’s legitimacy to rule turns on delivering rising living standards for all. Economic development was meant to forestall social unrest, not foster it. It should also concern the rest of the world. Urbanization is an essential precursor to rebalancing China’s economy towards domestic consumption.

Beijing’s new plans for managing social unrest are designed to deal with its growing problems with urbanization. It can no longer count on the traditional cohesiveness of rural communities and danwei in the big cities to self-police. The technological upgrading of police and their surveillance capacities, and the tightening of control over mass media, including microblogs, are central to controlling the larger scale of protest that cities enable. Dissidence, whose wellsprings tend to be in the universities and artists and writers studios in the cities, is being cracked down on. Yet, tackling the root causes of social disgruntlement requires reform of local government finances and governance, and most of all, land rights. Otherwise the influx of millions of migrants into towns and small cities will only exacerbate the fault line that is trembling below.

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One response to “Small Cities Astride A Social Fault Line

  1. Why the growing incidence of mainland slaughter? Please see the CCP has admitted the mistake from sixty-four not change since the rule of right and wrong, which is to explore how to form a symbiosis a huge interest, the regulation is a serious day by day how to prevent collusion and big corruption, but the Chinese are stupid evil persecution of social ills that just kind of warriors, such as
    Mr. Ai Weiwei compassion statistics Sichuan’s death was the high number of students taxed

    Mr. Chen Guangcheng exposed the inside story of birth control program was held

    Mr. Gao Zhisheng petition to stop persecution of Falun Gong is missing

    Miss Gao Yaojie care for AIDS village in Henan was hard to leave their homes
    People across the country look in the eyes of interviewees, and no one know very well: the Chinese Communists that serve the people, in fact, is all for the rich and powerful interests. Demolition put more people into enemies, the brutal rule of hegemonic attitude, lost much popular support to Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan compatriots difficult to agree, the CCP is now beleaguered, the enemy can be more.
    Who does not want to see social chaos, as long as the CCP rectifies, no right and wrong country, no longer compete with the people, really serve the people, to change the brutal rule of hegemonic attitude, kindness and justice to stop the persecution, Overseas Government announced high officials of the circumstances surrounding the deposit, so the people obeyed the country large sums of money to spend without holding stability. What network monitoring, network control, 610 offices, labor camp dungeon, notorious in the world, shame ah! CCP has admitted the mistake does not change the rule of right and wrong wrong direction, network monitoring, network control, 610 offices, labor camp dungeon, go with a plan to force the peasant woman in birth abortion profit of the wicked, to use in the persecution of Falun Gong organ harvesting selling profit Demons, to be used in Henan Province (now all over the country) the villagers sold their blood vampire profit to profit with the culprit in the shabby, to be used in demolition and chaos collusion of corrupt public for profit , is not it?
    I have too much nonsense, Chinese policy makers are all high-level dignitaries biggest gainers of these drawbacks, there may be rectifies, no right and wrong country, no longer compete with the people, truly serve the people, possible? As long as corrupt officials can check out the ins and outs of property, the community in order to have justice, by the sufferingof the people would be reduced. If the international community has a strong national Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate official corruption problem, then it will not Gaddafi corruption and brutal death, but also the expense ofso many people. I would like to cross-strait joint call for international justice, lawyers quickly established a strongIndependent Commission Against Corruption to investigate the problem of corrupt officials of States, China and North Koreafrom the search, the only way to avoid this, but many innocentpeople in the future brutal and corrupt officials to be buried withthose of great tragedy.
    CCP vested interests can never be self-reform, so the above is the most peaceful way to it!
    Please call it loud!

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