CHONGQING, China — With approximately 32.8 million residents, the Chongqing municipality offers an example of the steep socioeconomic divide in China. The area is home to rapid urban development as the largest inland city in China, but it is also part of the largely rural southwestern mountain region. The rural parts of this area show the nation’s highest concentration of poverty. Chongqing is included in the China Western Development Strategy, along with six other cities. This urbanization hopes to provide relief for migrant workers in rural western regions of China. The municipality includes the booming city center as well as rural areas, and poverty in Chongqing includes both of these vastly different areas.
As part of China Western Development, Chongqing has been a focus of efforts to address Chinese poverty. In 2012, World Bank loaned $100 million to the Chinese government to improve healthcare access in the rural parts of Chongqing. Part of the China Rural Health Project, the loan aimed to provide quality healthcare to seven million residents. While the loan focused on rural Chongqing, the rapid urbanization of the municipality is part of China’s strategy to decrease rural poverty by replacing rural areas with urban centers. The sudden boom of the city of Chongqing and the broader push for rapid develop attempts to boost the economy and create jobs.
China has shown that urbanization can help to alleviate poverty: the nation’s poverty rate dropped from 85% in 1981 to 33% in 2008, while the nation’s urban population increased from 18% in 1971 to 53% in 2013.
Despite this significant improvement, though, poverty in Chongqing prevails, even in the booming city of 12 million people. Sudden urbanization does not establish sustainable solutions. The millions of migrant workers who flocked to the city as it began to grow have not found new homes there. China’s hukou—its household registration system—limits the benefits migrant workers can receive as technically temporary residents of the city. The hukou system requires that workers maintain their registration at their rural homes. Because the system considers them rural residents, they do not have access to proper housing or social security in the city. They live in slums without access to basic social benefits such as appropriate healthcare and education. Back on their farms, the housing situation is no more secure, for localities rather than individuals own rural land and can profit from selling undeveloped land for urbanization. While urbanization hopes to improve lives for the rural poor, this large group of migrant workers remains excluded from the benefits of a growing urban center.
Because of its rapid growth and bureaucratic exclusion of many of the poor it intended to help, Chongqing exhibits a steep class divide. The city began as a model for Chinese development, quickly growing to become the largest inland city and working towards the goal of a “one-hour economy circle” in which four million rural residents could move into a one-hour radius of the city within ten years. As the problematic hukou system reveals, simply living within city limits does not solve poverty in Chongqing or even remove the burdens of rural life.
Many remain trapped by their socioeconomic status, simply shifting from poor farmers to poor city workers. They live in the city of Chongqing but do not receive the benefits of urban residency. Chongqing municipality and its city reveal the problematic results of rapid urbanization without sustainable plans for social support. Its prospects are not entirely bleak, though. Poverty in Chongqing does not negate the opportunities the city has created for the rural poor. While urbanization does not provide a magic solution to rampant rural poverty, it does create opportunities for the poor. Despite how quickly Chongqing urbanized, it will take time for it to establish programs to support the rural poor.
– Zoey Dorman
Sources: The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, New York Times, The World Bank, Food and Agricultural Organization