Farmers welcomed in urban push
Nanchang, the capital of East China's Jiangxi Province, is trying to narrow the gap between farmers and city dwellers in its continuing urbanization.
The municipality has stepped up efforts to remove barriers, including a residence system that has been reformed to allow people more freedom to migrate.
Li Douluo, mayor of Nanchang, said the city plans to encourage 190,000 rural residents to move into urban areas in the next couple of years. The urban population is expected to reach 2.25 million by 2005, almost half the city's total population.
The current level of rural residents in Nanchang is just 44 per cent.
Economists and social scientists generally agree that the key to lifting hundreds of millions of impoverished Chinese farmers out of poverty is to move them into cities in non-farming jobs.
Li said Nanchang will quicken the pace towards urbanization in the next few years. The city's urban dwellers are expected to reach 3 million by 2010, with the urban area increasing in size from 300 square kilometres from its current 200 square kilometres.
Li also said that by 2020 some 3.5 million residents are expected to live in 350 square kilometres of urban area in the city.
He said the municipal government has worked out a series of policies to facilitate migrant farmers to find jobs and dwellings. Meanwhile, the city has lowered requirements for migrants to be registered as urban citizens.
In the past, rigid household registration system tied farmers to their places of birth throughout their lifetimes.
Under this system, city dwellers were entitled to free housing, public utilities, education, medical care and other benefits subsidized by the State while it was illegal for farmers to move to cities without official permission.
As the urbanization drive is speeding up in Nanchang, the long-standing barriers preventing rural-urban flows have been broken, and rural and urban residents have been put on an equal footing, Li noted.
Meanwhile, the municipal government will set up a mechanism to ensure that children of migrant works enjoy the same right to education as urban kids.
Turning to the topic of economic development, Li said the social fixed asset investments of Nanchang last year increased by 68 per cent year-on-year, partly owing to the speedy urbanization.