Migrant urbanism and social integration


Key references

Fulong Wu, Fangzhu Zhang, Chris Webster. 2013. Informality and the development and demolition of urban villages in the Chinese peri-urban area. Urban Studies 50(10): 1919-1934. [full paper available for download in pdf]

Abstract. The fate of Chinese urban villages (chengzhongcun) has recently attracted both research and policy attention. Two important unaddressed questions are: what are the sources of informality in otherwise orderly Chinese cities; and, will village redevelopment policy eliminate informality in the Chinese city? Reflecting on the long-established study of informal settlements and recent research on informality, it is argued that the informality in China has been created by the dual urban–rural land market and land management system and by an underprovision of migrant housing. The redevelopment of chengzhongcun is an attempt to eliminate this informality and to create more governable spaces through formal land development; but since it fails to tackle the root demand for unregulated living and working space, village redevelopment only leads to the replication of informality in more remote rural villages, in other urban neighbourhoods and, to some extent, in the redeveloped neighbourhoods.

Fulong Wu. 2016. Housing in Chinese urban villages: The dwellers, conditions and tenancy informality. Housing Studies 31(7): 852-870. [full paper available for download in pdf]

Abstract. While it is widely acknowledged that Chinese urban villages provide an important source of rental housing for low-income populations, the composition of their dwellers, housing conditions and rental contracts has not been adequately studied. Drawing from surveys of sixty urban villages in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, this study finds that housing in urban villages is more family oriented; that over half of dwellers work in the tertiary sector; and that although they have relatively stable jobs, few have job security with contracts. In predominantly rental housing, the housing unit is small. Tight control by the city government over housing development has led to quite expensive rentals measured by unit space as well as poorer housing conditions. Tenancy informality in terms of the absence of formal contracts is widespread and most severe in Shanghai. The lack of formal contracts is largely independent of the status of dwellers or their job status but is rather dependent upon the rent value.

Fulong Wu, John Logan. 2016. Do rural migrants ‘float’ in urban China? Neighbouring and neighbourhood sentiment in Beijing. Urban Studies. 53(4): 2973-2990. (full paper available for download in pdf)

Abstract. Urban China reached 50% of the nation’s population by 2010, mainly as a result of massive rural–urban migration. There is substantial evidence of their social marginality in terms of occupational and housing opportunities. Here we ask about their incorporation into the neighbourhoods where they live. Rural migrants are called the ‘floating population’ in China, suggesting that their residence in the city is only temporary and that they are unlikely to develop strong local ties. This study contrasts the neighbourhood socialising of migrant tenants with that of urban homeowners who were born in the city. It draws on original survey research in Beijing that included questions on relations with neighbours and neighbourhood sentiment. It is found that migrants are more likely to engage in socialising and exchange of help with neighbours, and consequently their neighbouring helps strengthen their sentiment towards the neighbourhoods where they live. It is argued that contemporary social changes – including rising education and homeownership – may actually reduce neighbouring, while rural migrants’ marginality makes them more dependent on their local social network.

Fulong Wu, Yuemin Ning et al. (2018). Migrant Social Integration in Urban China. Beijing: Science Press. ISBN 978-7-03-058835-7. 吴缚龙、宁越敏等 2018年《转型期中国城市的社会融合》科学出版社:北京。(Chapter 1 – Examining social integration from the perspective of social inclusion. 第一章 从社会整合的角度看社会融合 available for download in pdf)

Fulong Wu, Zheng Wang. 2019. Moral order in the post-socialist Chinese city: generating a dialogue with Robert E. Park’s ‘The City’. In Ray Forrest, Julie Ren, Bart Wissink (eds.) The city in China: new perspectives on contemporary urbanism (pp.43-62). Bristol: Bristol University Press. (pre-print pdf).


Relevant recent studies

Sainan Lin, Fulong Wu, Zhigang Li 2020. Beyond neighbouring: Migrants’ place attachment to their host cities in China. Population, Space and Place (on-line first)

Abstract. The existing literature on migrants’ social integration tends to focus on neighbourhood. Few studies have explored migrants’ place attachment to their host cities, which might be a better scale for social integration. Drawing on the 2014 China Migrants Dynamic Survey, this paper examines migrants’ place attachment and explores how it is influenced by individual status and the factors of social and physical environment. It is found that migrants who live in commodity housing are more likely to feel attached to their cities in contrast with those who live in urban and rural villages. Although substantial evidence has shown that urban villages serve as an important venue for migrants’ entry into the city and demonstrate strong neighbourly interactions, living in these neighbourhoods does not enhance migrants’ place attachment to their cities. This claim is further supported by another finding that migrants who live in local resident‐dominated neighbourhoods tend to feel more attached to the city.

Sainan Lin, Fulong Wu, and Zhigang Li. 2020. Social integration of migrants across Chinese neighbourhoods. Geoforum (on-line first)

Abstract. Existing studies on migrant social integration in China are often focused on urban villages. Very few have explored across different types of neighbourhood. Drawing on the 2014 China Migrants Dynamic Survey, we find that migrants who live in ‘commodity housing’ neighbourhoods have achieved a higher level of social integration in all the dimensions of socio-economic achievement, neighbourly interaction and social relationships with the city. Migrants living in urban and rural villages manage to achieve better economic integration than migrants living in factory dormitories and old neighbourhoods in the central city. However, migrants in these villages show a lower level of social integration. The findings reveal that urban and rural villages as migrant enclaves serve a stepping-stone for migrants to earn an income but do not support migrants to eventually progress into better social integration. By revealing different levels of social integration, the Chinese case seems to suggest a process of spatial assimilation through which migrants living in more mainstream and formal housing with the locals become better integrated. However, such a process does not really happen as many migrants are stuck in the informal housing of villages. That migrant enclaves demonstrate a lower level of integration suggests that a path of segmented assimilation did not exist. That is, migrants could not find a path to integrate into the city in these enclaves.

Zheng Wang, Fangzhu Zhang, and Fulong Wu. 2020. The contribution of intergroup neighbouring to community participation: Evidence from Shanghai. Urban Studies 57(6):1224-42.

Abstract. What kind of neighbouring might enhance participation in community activities? Using a 1420-sized household survey collected in Shanghai, this paper examines the relationship between different types of neighbouring and community participation. Our results show that in-group neighbouring between residents belonging to the same social group does not have a direct effect on community participation. Instead intergroup neighbouring between migrant and local neighbours can lead to more willingness to take part in community activities. Owing to the unequal power configuration between minority and majority groups living in the same locality, intergroup neighbouring can help break down existing barriers between migrant residents and local residents who are mostly in charge of organising community activities. Our findings contribute to a better conceptualisation of neighbouring and community participation, which so far has focused on the quantity of neighbouring but largely ignored the types of neighbouring.


Yuqi Liu, Fangzhu Zhang, Ye Liu, Zhigang Li, and Fulong Wu. 2019. Economic disadvantages and migrants’ subjective well‐being in China: The mediating effects of relative deprivation and neighbourhood deprivation. Population, Space and Place. 25: e2173. (full paper pdf)

Abstract. China’s new‐style urbanisation plan has aroused public concern about the well‐being of internal migrants in large cities. Although a large body of literature has documented and explained migrants’ economic disadvantages in the host city, only a few studies have attempted to unravel the link between their actual economic conditions and their subjective well‐being (SWB). What is missing in the literature on migrants’ well‐being in Chinese cities is a systematic investigation into how both individuals’ feeling of relative deprivation and neighbourhood deprivation mediate the relationship between their economic disadvantages and their SWB. To bridge this knowledge gap, this paper examined to what extent and in what ways migrants’ actual economic disadvantages affected their SWB in Guangzhou, China, using questionnaire survey data and multilevel linear regressions. More particularly, it explored the pathways through which deprivation (in both absolute and relative terms) at both individual and neighbourhood levels influenced migrants’ SWB. Results from the multilevel analysis showed that migrants’ absolute economic disadvantages were negatively associated with their SWB. Results from mediation analysis indicated that feeling socio‐economically deprived relative to other people in the host cities and living in deprived neighbourhoods were two important pathways through which migrants’ absolute economic disadvantages negatively affected their SWB. Our findings suggest an urgent need to bridge the migrant–local social gap and curb the poverty of migrant neighbourhoods to enhance migrants’ SWB.

Yuqi Liu, Fulong Wu, Ye Liu, and Zhigang Li. 2017. Changing neighbourhood cohesion under the impact of urban redevelopment: A case study of Guangzhou, China. Urban Geography 38(2):266-90. (full paper pdf)

Abstract. Large-scale urban redevelopment has caused the breakdown of traditional social bonds in Chinese cities. To date, very few studies have attempted to delve into the impact of this urban redevelopment on neighbourhood cohesion. Using data collected from questionnaires conducted in 20 urban villages and 1 urban village redevelopment neighbourhood in Guangzhou, this paper examines the impact of urban village redevelopment on the restructuring of neighbourhood attachment, neighbourly interaction, and community participation—three dimensions of neighbourhood cohesion. Results of a path analysis show that, overall, neighbourhood cohesion declines after redevelopment occurs, and that the sources of neighbourhood cohesion differ between urban villages and the redevelopment neighbourhood. Our findings show that after redevelopment, neighbourhood attachment becomes more influenced by residential satisfaction but less by neighbourly contacts, and community participation becomes less subject to neighbourly interaction and neighbourhood attachment. Such changes occur as a result of the differentiation between social groups and the concurrence of environmental restructuring and demographic reconstruction during the process of urban village redevelopment.

Yuqi Liu, Fangzhu Zhang, Fulong Wu, Ye Liu, Zhigang Li. 2017. The subjective wellbeing of migrants in Guangzhou, China: The impacts of the social and physical environment. Cities 60: 333–342. (full paper pdf)

Abstract. China has witnessed a surge of rural-urban migrants over the past three decades. Although a plethora of literature has shed light on the low quality of migrants’ lives, little research has been done to understand how migrants evaluate their own lives in host cities, and no study has been undertaken to link migrants’ subjective wellbeing with their residential environments. Using the data collected from a questionnaire survey in Guangzhou and multilevel linear models, this paper examines the determinants of migrants’ subjective wellbeing in host cities. It particularly focuses on the extent to which and the ways in which migrants’ social ties and residential environment influence their subjective wellbeing. The results indicate that, in general, migrants have a lower level of subjective wellbeing than local residents, and the cognitive and emotional components of migrants’ subjective wellbeing are influenced by different factors. The sense of relative deprivation, social support, and neighbourhood social environment matter in determining the cognitive component of migrants’ wellbeing (life satisfaction) but have no impact on the emotional component of their wellbeing (positive and negative affect). No evidence shows that neighbourhood cleanliness and neighbourhood amenities influence the level of migrants’ subjective wellbeing.

Yuqi Liu, Fangzhu Zhang, Ye Liu, Zhigang Li, Fulong Wu. 2017. The effect of neighbourhood social ties on migrants’ subjective wellbeing in Chinese cities. Habitat International 66: 86-94.

Abstract. Existing literature on migrants’ subjective wellbeing (SWB) in Chinese cities has highlighted the crucial role of social ties, yet the pathways by which social ties influence their SWB remain poorly understood. Using Guangzhou survey data and multilevel linear regressions, this paper examines the extent to and ways in which migrants’ social ties with neighbours enhance their SWB, with a particular focus on the distinction between the main effects and buffering effects of their neighbourhood ties. Results from multilevel models reveal that neighbourhood ties enhance migrants’ SWB in a direct manner, but no evidence shows that neighbourhood ties lessen the negative impacts of neighbourhood deprivation. Results also illustrate that the association between neighbourhood ties and SWB is stronger for locals than for migrants. This paper contributes to our understanding of migrants’ SWB by disentangling the positive effects of their social ties with neighbours and investigating the role of migrants’ neighbourhood ties in relation to stress arising from neighbourhood deprivation.

Wang, Zheng, Fangzhu Zhang, and Fulong Wu. 2017. Affective neighbourly relations between migrant and local residents in Shanghai. Urban Geography 38(8):1182-202. (full paper pdf)

Abstract. In urban China there is growing scholarly interest in neighbourhood social interaction, but most studies focus on overt neighbouring activities whilst less is known about the affective dimension of neighbourhood relations, such as mutual trust and care. By surveying 1,420 residents from Shanghai, this study examines the affective relationship between rural migrants and local urban neighbours and explores whether the frequency of neighbouring and contextual characteristics may affect this outcome. Our results show that residents who interact more with out-group neighbours also tend to describe their relationship with them as more caring and amicable. Furthermore, residents in working class neighbourhoods tend to rely on intergroup neighbouring as means of facilitating mutual trust. In contrast, residents of neighbourhoods with commodified housing stock already possess a strong affective relationship with out-group neighbours because of a shared identity as middle-class homeowners and, therefore, do not rely on neighbourly interactions as a facilitator of neighbourly trust.

Zheng Wang, Fangzhu Zhang and Fulong Wu. 2017. Neighbourhood cohesion under the influx of migrants in Shanghai. Environment and Planning A 49(2) 407–425. (full paper pdf)

Abstract. This study explores the current neighbourhood cohesion in Chinese cities and how it might be affected by the influx of migrants. Our multilevel analysis is based on a 1420 sized household survey conducted in Shanghai in 2013. The results reveal that the influx of migrants does not generate all negative results contrasting existing literature where migrants tend to reduce cohesion in the neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods with a higher share of migrant residents between 20 and 50% have the strongest cohesion potentially because local residents have adjusted to their migrant neighbours. Neighbourhood cohesion is also stronger in migrant-dominated enclaves with more than 50% migrants as migrant residents may have formed their own in-group community. Comparatively, local-dominated neighbourhoods are still adjusting to the gradual influx of migrants and therefore residents tend to have lower levels of social solidarity, sense of belonging and informal social control. Nevertheless, the strongest deterrent of cohesion is the prospect of displacement and lack of resources since low-income areas and traditional courtyard neighbourhoods, which face demolition and redevelopment, have the weakest cohesion.

Zheng Wang, Fangzhu Zhang, Fulong Wu. 2017. Social trust between rural migrants and urban locals in China – exploring the effects of residential diversity and neighbourhood deprivation. Population Space and Place 23(1): 1-15. (full paper pdf)

Abstract. The social integration of migrants has become a major challenge for Chinese cities as many rural migrants still face discrimination from urban natives. Research suggests that intergroup social trust can improve cohesion and reduce stigmatisation. However, little is known about the trust level between migrants and locals and its underlying dynamics in urban China. Our study explores the trust between native Shanghai residents and rural migrants and how neighbourhood factors including residential diversity and neighbourhood poverty may play a role. We adopt a multilevel model to analyse the 1,420 questionnaire samples collected in 2013 from local and migrant residents in Shanghai. Our results show that people living in areas with more migrant residents also have higher intergroup social trust, which may indicate that exposure to more out‐group neighbours can remove preconceived stigmas and foster tolerance. In contrast, there is less intergroup trust in poor neighbourhoods although migrant residents are exceptions. We speculate that migrants are less affected by local poverty because they are less spatially bound to the locality and are thus less likely to compete with native residents over local resources. Our results differ from findings in multi‐ethnic societies where residential diversity causes distrust, but we believe this is a reasonable outcome considering that locals and migrants in urban China share more in common such as ethnicity, language, and national identity.

Zheng Wang, Fangzhu Zhang, and Fulong Wu. 2016. Intergroup neighbouring in urban China: Implications for the social integration of migrants. Urban Studies 53(4): 651-668.

Abstract. There is an emerging literature on social interaction and neighbourhood attachment of various social groups in China. However, few have directly addressed the interaction between the locals and migrants at the neighbourhood level. This paper examines the variation of intergroup neighbouring in the city of Nanjing and how housing characteristics and hukou status may affect this process. Measured by intergroup communication and mutual support, this study reveals that migrants are more likely to interact with their urban neighbours, which suggests that migrants might not only interact with each other but also are willing to interact and help with local neighbours. Furthermore, compared with modern commodity housing neighbourhoods developed through the real estate market, older and physically more deprived neighbourhoods characterised by courtyard housing and provisional shelters have higher levels of this intergroup bridging social interaction. This implies that the government’s extensive redevelopment schemes of older neighbourhoods will likely impede on the social integration of migrants and reduce the habitat of intergroup social ties.