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Policy Brief

A Rising Tide Sinks All Boats? Assessing the Academic Schism Regarding Chinese Migrants’ Conditions

Author:

Jackson Neagli

MA Chinese Studies with Distinction, Class of 2019, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, GB
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Abstract

The acceleration of reforms following Deng Xiaoping’s
1992 “Southern Tour” set in motion a series of dramatic
shifts in China’s economy. These shifts would ultimately
result in a profusion of rural-to-urban migrant labourers,
who have played an important role in China’s industrial
and economic growth over the past several decades
(Chan et al. 2010). The economic conditions and social
status of these migrant workers have been the subject of
intense academic debate.
From the perspective of labour studies scholars and
sociologists, the socio-legal status of Chinese migrant
workers has declined since the turn of the 21st century.
Economists, however, tend to conclude that the economic
conditions of Chinese migrant workers have largely
improved over this period. These oppositional conclusions
stem from the dissimilar criteria that different academic
disciplines use to judge the conditions of China’s migrant
population: labour studies scholars and sociologists
focus on the qualitative questions of workers’ rights,
entitlements, and social status, whereas economists are
primarily concerned with quantitative trends in migrant
wages and productivity.

Though both groups of scholars muster convincing
evidence to support their positions, this analysis
concludes that the declining socio-legal conditions of
China’s migrant population have troublesome implications
for Chinese political and economic stability and ought to
be taken seriously.

How to Cite: Neagli, J., 2020. A Rising Tide Sinks All Boats? Assessing the Academic Schism Regarding Chinese Migrants’ Conditions. The Public Sphere: Journal of Public Policy, 8(1).
Published on 20 Mar 2020.
Peer Reviewed

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