The Poverty of China’s Rural-to-Urban Migrants: A Case Study of Shanghai

Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 05 March 2019


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Chunyuan Gao


Maxine McArthur

Since the late 1980s, an increasing number of migrant workers have been moving from villages to towns and cities in China. In 2010, 153 million rural-to-urban migrant workers worked outside of their home townships. By 2016, this number had reached 169 million, equivalent to 21 percent of the total urban population. China’s rural-to-urban migrants have attracted a great deal of attention from researchers, but their poverty has not been properly understood. Previous studies mostly regard rural-to-urban migrants as a disadvantaged or marginalized group in the city, but not as the subject for poverty research. Some more recent studies discuss migrant poverty claiming that it is caused by low wages, low levels of education and the cost of supporting family members left behind in the countryside. However, this is a misinterpretation: The average income of rural-to-urban migrants has been steadily increasing in recent decades and has exceeded the average per capita income in both rural and urban areas. This study therefore asks: Why do rural-to-urban migrants live in poverty despite their higher income? To answer this main question, I will reframe the concept of poverty, compare the poverty of rural migrants with that of poor local urban-registered residents in Shanghai, and analyse the reason behind migrants’ remittances and expenditure in rural areas.

About the Speaker
Gao Chunyuan commenced his PhD candidature at the Department of Political and Social Change in 2017. He has formerly worked for Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau and the World Bank in China. His research interests include rural-to-urban migration in China, poverty and sociological theories.

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