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Two Systems in One Country: China's Urban-rural System

Authors: Kam Wing Chan*, University of Washington
Topics: China
Keywords: China
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this presentation, I take an interdisciplinary perspective to focus on the role played by the urban-rural dual system in China’s urbanization and migration. I will explain its establishment in China in the 1950s and its genealogy in the industrialization strategy adopted in the USSR in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the reform era, the system has been refashioned to suit a new set of demands of the state industrialization strategy to cater for the global economy. I will analyze the mechanisms of the dual system, and how it has helped generate low-cost migrant labor for urban employers and siphon off revenues for urban governments by expropriating rural land. There are fundamental differences between the dual system and the common “dualism,” based on the Lewis dual-sector model. The plight of children of migrants is used to illustrate the main points. This research challenges the prevailing perspectives based on market-driven neoclassical economics or global neoliberalism, often ignoring China’s history and institutional contexts.

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