Development Induced Migration and Institutionalised Discrimination Differential Citizenship and Internal Migrants’ Self-Identity in China

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Xinyu Promio Wang


This article examines the process that delineates how members of a specific category of Chinese forced internal migrants understand their own identities. The forced internal migrants that constitute the focus of this article have typically had their residential registration status altered from rural- to urban-dwellers; they are indeed forced to relocate as they have had their property appropriated by the central government. Focusing on a factory and its surrounding communities in suburban Shanghai, this study applies qualitative methodologies to reveal that such internal migrants typically continue to self-identify as rural residents despite the change in their official status. Furthermore, they place considerable emphasis on their distinct cultural origins and ways of life, rejecting any potential assimilation into the existing traditions of their new urban environment. Paradoxically, however, these rural migrants also adopt a hierarchical attitude towards more recent migrants, demonstrating discriminatory tendencies towards these more recent migrants by emphasising and elevating their own social interests. This article explores the ambivalence of rural migrants towards their identity and status, which, it is posited, is the combined effect of local Shanghai residents’ ‘urban protectionist’ attitudes and the government’s institutionalisation of exclusionary policies towards internal migrants. It is argued that the lack of fluent adjustment in migrants’ sense of self-identity, and their limited access to urban public goods, are both perpetuated by structural and hierarchical barriers to improving status under China’s current institutional arrangements and compounded by social exclusion and a lack of social welfare provision.

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