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  • Rural-Urban Migration and Its Impact on Economic Development in China
  • Laurence J. C. Ma (bio)
Wenbao Qian . Rural-Urban Migration and Its Impact on Economic Development in China. Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Co., 1996. xviii, 165 pp. Hardcover $55.95, ISBN 1-85972-4566.

This slim volume on migration reads much like a dissertation in its very first draft before the student's adviser has read it. It is full of rough spots and suffers from major problems of conceptualization, but raises a point that deserves scholarly attention. There are numerous awkward sentences, misspelled words, typos, and grammatical errors. Many citations are not listed in the bibliography, and the information for some of the listed references is incomplete. Most of the tables are poorly constructed, and some of the figures are not numbered. The lack of adequate titles in the tables and figures makes it difficult to see at a glance what they [End Page 520] are all about. Even the title of the book is inaccurate. With the exception of a couple of paragraphs on remittances, there is very little on how migration has impacted either places of origin or destinations.

In chapter 2, Qian critically evaluates the appropriateness of using Western models of migration to account for post-reform migration in China. This is an important issue. Although at times carried away by a youthful exuberance that results in occasional audacious interpretations of classical models, Qian does raise a valid point that there are problems in applying Western models to China where the economic, social, and cultural conditions are different. This, of course, is hardly new, but few migration studies have specifically pointed out that a migration study should go beyond disciplinary boundaries to consider the entire spectrum of factors affecting migration, including economic, social, cultural, political, geographic, and psychological factors.

Students new to the field of rural-urban migration will find the discussion of the models by Ravenstein, Lee, Lewis, and Todaro interesting. Qian makes a valid point when he argues that migration takes place only when the urban and rural income gap is large enough—not simple when the expected urban income is larger than the rural income, as Todaro has proposed. However, the distinction between the formal and informal sectors in China's urban economy is not as clear-cut as Qian has stated, and quite a few migrants have been employed in the (formal) state sector. Qian then proudly proposes a "model" of migration, which, unfortunately, is not a model at all; it is nothing more than a list of factors that affect migration. For example, the "model" says that migration is a function of a potential migrant's age, gender, marital status, and education; a function of the cost of migration and the probability of obtaining jobs in the informal sector; and a function of a place's level of contact with cities, a sufficient rural-urban income gap, the hukou system, the history of migration, and the level of economic development at the place of origin! No rigorous mathematical models are given for this all-inclusive grand "model." I am not denying the importance of such factors of migration, but to put them together in one "model" without explaining how it might be made operational in different circumstances is an exercise in futility. Clearly Qian is thinking big, but the task is so immense that he has failed in this first attempt. Even he himself does not use this comprehensive "model" in his case studies.

The data presented came from questionnaire surveys in five villages and one town each in Anhui, Gansu, and Zhejiang provinces carried out over a six-month period (p. vii) (or eight months, according to p. 8) in 1992. The use of the data is seriously flawed. Qian is mute regarding the important question of sample representativeness, and he does not seem to know the relationship between generality and uniqueness in social science research. What is the significance of the data for five small villages when there are more than 700,000 villages in China? [End Page 521] What is the meaning of using such a limited amount of data to test the general "hypotheses...


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