Opinion / Zhu Ping

Home, sweet rural home

By Zhu Ping ( Updated: 2014-05-28 18:02

A video which was recently widely circulated on the internet showed three young men beating, kicking and stoning a teenager. This shocking violence took place in Naixi village, an infamous suburb of Beijing which some see as a slum. Local police have already tracked down the three men, who dropped out of school after they left the countryside to come to Beijing with their parents.

The video coincided with a Beijing court report on Tuesday which said that many children of migrant workers in the Chinese capital are both victims and perpetrators of violence. Previously, a think tank analysis said migrant workers born after 1980 committed a third of China’s crimes in 2010.

It’s easy to hold the newcomers responsible for the increasing number of cases of juvenile delinquency in cities, especially in the suburbs where they can afford the cheap housing. But these young people end up feeling that they do not belong - either in the cities or in rural areas – and they are thus the victims of the rapid but inadequate urbanization.

According to official data, more than 730 million of China’s total of 1.3 billion people were living in China’s urban areas in 2013. However, less than 35 percent of the total population hold urban hukou, or household registration that provides basic welfare services such as education and social security to urban residents. This means that there are more than 260 million farmers who have left their rural homes to work in cities, but they have not been integrated into urban life.

China should learn from Latin America’s urbanization. In the 1960s, many Latin American countries started a process of rapid urbanization, and some of the countries have a very high level of urbanization, reaching 80 percent in some cases. But the sluggish industrialization failed to create enough jobs in cities, which led to massive slums and high crime rates.

Everyone in China hopes for a people-oriented urbanization that can help accelerate the economic transformation by boosting domestic consumption. But people need to discuss how this can be achieved.

Some scholars and economists simply suggest the usual way - of granting hukou to migrant workers. But that’s much easier said than done. The migrant workers would still be alienated from urban society if they simply receive a hukou - but do not have jobs, access to education and other services.

It is estimated that local governments need to invest about 100,000 yuan on a single migrant worker if they wish to grant him or her the same rights as an urban resident. This means another 10 trillion yuan would need to be spent on public infrastructure and public services. However, at the end of 2013 the National Audit Office said that governments at various levels had a total debt of 20.7 trillion yuan after the first half of the year.

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