Thursday, February 25, 2010

You Are Now Free to Move About the Country

China will begin instituting policy that should help the people on the fringes of society better integrate.

From The Washington Post:

Image taken in 2006 along the 长江 (Yangtze River)

BEIJING -- China will grant young migrant workers more social service benefits and help them rent or buy homes in smaller cities, a government adviser said Tuesday.

For decades, China has restrained migration by linking access to low-cost public services like health care and education to a person's registered place of residence. The system means rural migrants in Shanghai, Beijing and other big cities are deprived many essential benefits and services.

Han Jun, a senior research fellow at the Development Research Center, a think tank that advises China's Cabinet, said a policy paper released last month made it clear that the government is "striving for substantial reform of the household registration system" to allow migrants, especially younger ones, to register in cities.

However, the reform plan aims to get migrants registered in cities and townships close to their home villages - not expensive places like Beijing or Shanghai where migrants flock for construction and service sector jobs.

"A farmer would have to live several lifetimes before he could afford an apartment in Beijing," Han said. "This reform will be mainly focused on moving rural migrants into smaller cities and townships."

Read On

This policy shift should help the swelling of the country's largest urban centers - Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. These cities are already megalopolises. Cities that large really don't need to get much bigger. I suppose cities can theoretically grow forever, but at some point, 10+ million person cities just become too much to handle.

I see, and I think the China government sees, a great opportunity in the coming years and decades to develop its second-tier and third-tier cities.

Chinese cities are broken down into "tiers." I've heard these tiers referenced many times while in China. I just did a quick Google search to find lists of these tiers, but had a hard time coming up with much (not sure how to search for this in Chinese on Baidu).

I finally found a blogger who's done the research and who has compiled a list of China's tier system though. From the "Eric in Beijing" blog's "Which Tier is Your Chinese City?" post:
First tier
* Beijing
* Guangzhou
* Shanghai
* Xian (what are they smoking?!)

Second tier
* Changchun
* Chengdu
* Chongqing
* Dalian
* Guiyang
* Haikou
* Hangzhou
* Harbin
* Hefei
* Kunming
* Lanzhou
* Nanjing
* Ningbo
* Qingdao
* Sanya
* Shantou
* Shaoxing
* Shenyang
* Shenzhen
* Suzhou
* Taiyuan
* Tianjin
* Urumqi
* Wenzhou
* Wuhan
* Xiamen
* Xian
* Zhuhai

Third tier
None of the articles I looked at listed the third tier cities by name. By process of elimination, if you're in a Chinese city that's not listed as first tier or second tier, then you must be in a third tier city.

Fourth Tier
The sticks.
I agree with Eric that Xi'an is not a first-tier city. It isn't. It's a solid second-tier city.

Do you recognize many of the second-tier cities on that list? Unless you've lived in China or have a vested interest in China, you probably don't. You should get familiar with them though. The development of China's second-tier cities is going nuts and these cities are the ones that are going to really boom in the coming years.

Second-tier and third-tier cities will largely grow by people coming to them from the countryside. Like the rest of the world, very few people want to continue living in rural areas. The pull of cities is just too appealing. Rural Chinese are doing whatever it takes - working in factories, restaurants, and menial jobs - to get to cities.

Providing benefits to migrants leaving the countryside is a huge step in the right direction for China. I understand the reasons why every Chinese person in the countryside couldn't, and shouldn't, leave the countryside at once. The pressure on resources and space and jobs would just be too intense. Conceding that, China's 户口 (hukou) system is brutal and needs to be reformed.

The title of this post - You Are Now Free to Move About the Country - is the tagline for America's Southwest Airlines (what many consider to be the best airline in the States). The Chinese are not completely free to go wherever they want. But they appear to becoming freer. And the freedom to move is a freedom that every person in the world should have.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm thats an odd list. What is the criteria for a tier? If its population then Chongqing and Tianjin should both be in the first tier. If its economic then Shenzen would be a first tier over Xian.

Ramesh said...

List seems broadly OK except for Xian of course. As Hopfrog says, Chongqing, Tianjin and Shenzhen would knock on the doors of the first tier. Maybe even Chengdu.

Mischevously, how come no Hong Kong !!

Mark said...

Xi'an isn't first tier. I guess the blogger saw Xi'an as first tier somewhere, but it's not. He also had it listed on the second tier.

You know, I'm not sure why Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shenzhen aren't first tier. I think that one of the requirements for first tier is a population of 10 million though. And while those cities are huge, they technically don't hit that number.

Chongqing, as a "municipality," has a population of 30 million. But you'll see it everywhere that Shanghai is the biggest city in China with a population of about 15 million. Chongqing is more of a mini-province than "city." On the Chongqing Wikipedia page it says this:

The boundaries of Chongqing municipality reach much farther into the city's hinterland than the boundaries of the other three provincial level municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin), and much of its administrative area, which spans over 80 000 km², is rural. It has jurisdiction over 19 districts, 17 counties, and four autonomous counties. The population of the urban area of Chongqing proper was 5.09 million (2000).[2]

This reminds me a little bit of Kansas City. Kansas City, Missouri, the city, has a population of about 400,000. But the KC metro area has a population of close to 2 million.

Splitting hairs, I suppose, but I guess that's how these sort of distinctions are made.