This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Monday, September 9, 2013

Urbanization Continues to Take a Toll in China

A few months ago I commented on the fact that the Chinese government was forcing rural populations to relocate to cities. In today's New York Times, Ian Johnson continues the saga, but looking this time at what is happening to people who don't want to move in order to make way for the growing cities. The stories are tragic.
As she drove down a busy four-lane road near her old home, Tang Huiqing pointed to the property where her dead sister’s workshop once stood. The lot was desolate, but for Ms. Tang it lives. 
Four years ago, government officials told her sister that Chengdu was expanding into the countryside and that her village had to make way. A farmer who had made the transition to manufacturer, she had built the small workspace with her husband. Now, officials said, it would be torn down. “So my sister went up to the roof and said, ‘If you want to, tear it down,’ ” Ms. Tang said. Her voice trailed off as she recalled how her sister poured diesel fuel on herself and after pleading with the demolition crew to leave, set herself alight. She died 16 days later. 
Over the past five years, at least 39 farmers have resorted to this drastic form of protest. The figures, pieced together from Chinese news reports and human rights organizations, are a stark reminder of how China’s new wave of urbanization is at times a violent struggle between a powerful state and stubborn farmers — a top-down project that is different from the largely voluntary migration of farmers to cities during the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
“My sister’s sacrifice brought a change,” she said. “Right now they don’t dare tear down so many homes. There’s more consultation. At least here, they don’t tear down as much. Maybe in this village it’s better.” The effect on her family, however, was grim. The sisters’ mother joined the Communist Party shortly after it took power in 1949, elated at its promise to take land from landlords and redistribute it to poor peasants like the Tang family. Her daughter’s death broke her will to live, and she died a few months later. “She was heartbroken,” Ms. Tang said. “She couldn’t understand how they could act like this to unarmed, ordinary people.”
From a broader historical perspective, we can see that if China had not held back urbanization for so long, institutionalized in the hukou household registration system, China would have urbanized in a more natural, organic way, as has the rest of the world. Now it wants to urbanize in a hurry and so that has introduced a whole new set of human rights abuses.

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