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China's Great Migration

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Paul F. Gentle

Hong Kong

By: Paul F. Gentle

Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 20, no. 3 (Fall 2017)

China’s Great Migration by Bradley M. Gardner, Independent Institute, 2017

Bradley Gardner is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department. Prior assignments include Research Analyst with the China office of The Economist Intelligence Unit; Managing Editor of China International Business and Editor-in-Chief for China Offshore /Invest In; and writer for Czech Business Weekly. He earned a B.A. in Chinese from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in Humanities from the University of Chicago.

This book has forty pages of endnotes and bibliography. Since I spent about a dozen years as a faculty member and researcher in China, I read this book carefully. There is a lot of detail here, and a style of writing we would expect in periodicals, instead of being the style of an economist. Indeed, the author’s education is not in economics. The major theme explored is how a very large migration of people came from the Middle and Western China to more industrial and urban areas, especially in East China, where their labor was used more productively. Without the capital and entrepreneurship factors of production, none of this would have happened, but the author seldom uses economic terminology. China’s economic transformation included the state’s share of employment dropping from 60.5 percent in 1998 to 19.4 percent (Gardner, 2017, p. 2). China does not have the perfect public policy, as no nation does. Yet there were some matters that China had right, which allowed hundreds of millions of people to substantially improve their lives, in a relatively brief time span (p. 3).

This book has been written for the Chinese who have migrated to places of greater opportunity, compared to the migrants’ former lives as farmers. Some of the foreign-owned major factories have taken “nearly every employee willing to work for the sum they’re willing to pay” (p. 5). Between 1978 and 2012, “more than 260 million economic migrants” moved to urban centers (p. 5). China’s national government has loosened up legal requirements about where Chinese citizens can move. The provision of schools, health care and other basic amenities for migrant families has been slow in coming sometimes, but it has come. Yet, “migration is by no means the only reason for the Chinese economic miracle,” though it does give an insight into how …read more


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