Saturday, November 23, 2013

Quality of life issues drive reverse migration, rural gentrification in China

Edward Wong reports from Dali, Yunnan Province, China for the New York Times today, in a front page story headlined, "Urbanites Flee China's Smog for Blue Skies."  What is not specified in the headline but becomes clear from the story is that those migrating are well-heeled urban professionals--in short, those with abundant social capital--and money.  Wong refers to them as Chinese bobos--or bourgeois bohemians--who seek freedom from the urban focus on "what you're wearing, where yo're eating, comparing yourselves with others." The story features several couples, some with young children, all waxing poetic about the improved quality of life in Dali, as compared to China's massive cities, mostly on the coast.  Wong refers to the "growing number of urbanites who have decamped to rural China," whom one Dali resident calls "environmental refugees" or "environmental immigrants."

Here's an excerpt from Wong's story:
At a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese, many poor farmers, are leaving their country homesteads to find work and tap into the energy of China’s dynamic cities, a small number of urban dwellers have decided to make a reverse migration. Their change in lifestyle speaks volumes about anxieties over pollution, traffic, living costs, property values and the general stress found in China’s biggest coastal metropolises.
* * * 
The urban refugees come from all walks of life — businesspeople and artists, teachers and chefs — though there is no reliable estimate of their numbers. 
Wong notes that many of the migrants to this part of rural China are ethnic Han, and that many are renting properties owned by ethnic Bai, who are native to this region of southwest China.  

This story--while about migration between rural and urban--is very different in tone and substance to those in Ian Johnson's series for the Times this year about China's forced and planned urbanization.  Read posts about that series here, here, here and here.

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