Cities continue to lure rural poor
The creep of urbanisation is continuing, with just 56 per cent of the mainland's population living in rural areas by the end of last year, according to National Bureau of Statistics director Xie Fuzhan .
Xinhua quoted Mr Xie as saying the rural population was 737 million and urban residents numbered 577 million by the end of last year.
Just over 18 months ago, the government estimated there were 940 million rural dwellers. However, a bureau spokesman said it considered migrant workers in cities for more than six months urban residents.
Lu Jiehua, from Peking University's Population Research Institute, said previous estimates of the mainland's rural population - 64 per cent in 2001 and 74 per cent in 1990 - included migrant workers, who might have spent more time toiling in city factories than on their farmland.
Though it would be hard to use the data to determine specific urbanisation trends over the years, Professor Lu said farmers had been flocking to cities faster than in previous years, and especially since the 11th five-year plan came into effect last year.
'The economy has boomed over the past few years and this has lured more and more farmers into the cities,' he said. 'This shows that there is still a labour surplus in rural China.'
Managers of factories, especially in thriving southern provinces, have complained of problems recruiting and retaining workers over the past few years, prompting concerns about a labour shortage that could hamper economic growth. The government denies a shortage is imminent and says the problem is more about a lack of skilled workers.
According to official figures, there were 120 million migrant workers by 2000 and 147 million by 2005.
Despite their inclusion in urban population figures, migrant workers often fall through the social security net that protects urban counterparts because their residence permits are registered in the countryside.
Earlier this year, Li Zhou, a rural development expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the urban-rural gap was expected to expand this year to 3.3 to one from last year's ratio of 3.28 to one and the 3.22 to one seen in 2005.
Last year, farmers' average annual income rose 7.4 per cent to 3,587 yuan, but the average urban resident earned more than 10,000 yuan.
In his report last week to the 17th National Congress, President Hu Jintao pledged to strengthen income redistribution.