Peasants seek life in city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 June, 1995, 12:00am

CHINA'S first major survey of rural migration has shown nearly half its 450 million peasants want to move to cities or have already done so.

The survey of 4,000 households in eighty villages in eight provinces showed 12 per cent had migrated to the cities. A further 37 per cent said they wanted to leave the land.

The Ministry of Labour inquiry has not yet been published, but Liu Danhua, deputy director of the rural division, said initial results indicated 54 million peasants nationwide had left the land and another 166 million would leave if they have the chance.

'The positive aspect is that the majority - 54 per cent - replied that they would prefer to stay where they are,' she said.

She said some observers in China had raised alarm by predicting a massive and uncontrollable flight to the cities by the peasants, attracted by the higher wages and bright lights. Ms Liu said much depended on improving employment prospects in the countryside.

The survey, carried out over four months this year, indicated 20 per cent of rural households did not have enough arable land - less than one mu is available per labourer, too little to provide an adequate living.

As many as thirty per cent of respondents to the survey said they hoped to contract more land, at least five mu.

Arable land available per labourer nationwide has shrunk since 1949 and now stands at two mu, or five mu for each rural household.

According to official statistics, the amount of arable land per labourer in 1952 was 12.5 mu.

In the intervening years, China's population has more than doubled, while valuable farming land has been lost to industrial and urban development.

Ms Liu said the Government must help poorer farmers get access to capital and better technology.

'The crux of the problem is finding ways of helping such peasants earn the money to pay for better skills, technology and other resources,' she said.

The survey confirmed early estimates, which put migration to the cities since 1979 at some 50 million. However, the survey showed that the vast majority of these had stayed in the same province.

Three per cent of respondents had moved to another province which nationwide would mean 13.5 million have done so.

'This is still a lot if they descend on a few major cities,' said Ms Liu.