Friday, November 14, 2008

Reverse migration to the countryside, as China's economy falters

Edward Wong reports in today's New York Times of some of the demographic and migration consequences of the economic downturn for China. Here are some excerpts from Wong's story:

For decades, the steamy Pearl River Delta area of southern Guangdong Province served as a primary engine for China’s astounding economic growth. But an export slowdown that began earlier this year and that has been magnified by the global financial crisis of recent months is contributing to the shutdown of tens of thousands of small and mid-size factories here and in other coastal regions, forcing laborers to scramble for other jobs or return home to the countryside.

* * *

The Pearl River Delta, known as the world’s factory, powered an export industry that pushed China’s annual growth rate into the double digits and provided work for migrants from interior provinces with poor farmland.
As Wong reports, however, things have changed very quickly, and 67,000 factories closed in the first half of 2008. He speculates that workers may not wish to return to the coastal provinces once the economic tide turns again. This is because farming has become more profitable, and recently announced rural land reform could create incentives for farmers to stay in rural areas and make better use of the land.

All this makes me wonder if China will stumble onto a more sustainable population distribution. Having more people remain in the countryside will not be a bad thing if the profits from farming provide them with enough income on which to live, though the consequences of recently announced land reform policies are as yet unknown.

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