Interview: Li Xiaoyun

Video Tabs

China’s villages in the city nowadays are no longer those places like Zhejiang Village where large quantities of migrants gathered in Beijing in the 1990s.
Today what we’re talking about are urban villages formed in the process of urbanization. The land inside the villages, especially the farming land, has basically been urbanized and industrialized. 
The local governments might try to avoid the procedure of bargaining with the peasants in the process of land requisition.
Secondly, they try to avoid being overcharged as the peasants would usually demand higher compensations. 
To avoid such cases, they would make a detour around the places where those peasants live and leave them alone. Then, the farmland is gone, and many peasants are forced to transfer to urban citizens. 
Then, lots of buildings rise up, and factories are set up. In such circumstances, these peasants would go to work there. If there’re no factories, but only residential communities and villas, the local peasants can be employed for the property and sanitation maintenance work. 
In this way, the peasants are compensated, however, their own lands are still the formerly rural residence base. They keep the rural residence bases and their houses. During this process, with the inflow of migrant population, the flowing populations find it hard to rent the expensive new residences in the city. They cannot afford it.
Then, they would find these urban villages. A peasant usually has four or five rooms. With the young all going out for work, only two old people are left at home. Therefore, two to three rooms are empty. They would rent them out.

Rent is very cheap. With more and more people flowing in, the peasants would consider enlarging houses on their own residence base. So they would add floors constantly. In fact, it is not difficult to be approved to add floors to the original houses rather than build new houses. 
With the building height rising continuously as well as the enlargement of all factors, the peasants have breached something. That is, the laws and regulations concerning residential management and urban construction management. Therefore, many houses inside the urban villages are in fact illegal buildings. 

The urban villages come into being in that way. There’re two categories of populations living in the urban villages. One is the peasants without farmland.
Many of them might have social security and jobs as well. However, they have to depend on themselves in work. Originally being peasants, it is impossible for them to gain a very good salary after urbanization. Impossible. 
They might just drive taxies or do sanitation work. They surely continue to belong to the social grassroots. However, with the flow of migrants, they rent their houses continuously. 
Most of these people become relatively well-off today. As for the other category of populations, they are the so-called floating population who come from the countryside or other places. They come here and find very economical accommodations. 
Therefore, on the one hand, they can work in the down town outside the villages, with paying very low rents. On the other hand, they can do many small businesses within the urban villages, for instance, opening small shops, providing some very cheap services for the local and surrounding people. 

Many of these people come from the countryside. They have to pay for rents themselves. As they have no access to the city’s social security, they tend to follow some relatively dangerous and dirty jobs. 
Therefore, many of them suffer from occupational diseases and many face occupational injuries. Most people do not enjoy very good social security, especially in terms of urban medical treatment. 
Then how about the rural cooperative medical service? The reimbursement scope is very limited and compensation standard is also relatively low. Many decoration workers have developed pneumoconiosis, lung cancer or other severe diseases. 
For such major diseases, they have to spend lots of money with a very low reimbursement standard. What will be their results in the end? They would become the new poverty due to urbanization. 
This is the status quo of the urban villages today. A new kind of poor population would occur in the process of urbanization. I know this phenomenon of urban villages in Beijing. Though I’m not an expert. I’ve learnt a bit about it.  
Including some phenomena such as dirtiness, noise and disorder in response to the inflow of these new urban poor people. Now the question is: 
Do you think urbanization have resolved the problem of poverty? I hold that this problem is actually a very tricky one. 
In my opinion, 
on the one hand, urbanization has resolved the problem of poverty. 
On the other hand, it has given rise to new poverty. Strictly speaking, the process of urbanization is pushing many original rural populations into new job positions in the city.
They become a relatively affluent population due to renting and land compensation. At the same time, some new floating population sinks into a new poverty status due to urbanization.
Therefore, the urbanization’s impact on poverty is very complicated. It is not a simple issue. Then what’s the core of resolving this problem? 
It lies in finding a replaceable and sustainable urbanization mode. This mode apparently demands us to consider that the best industries and services including medical treatment and education are concentrated in big cities. 
Big cities are productive and growing centers, which would attract all kinds of low-skill workers. These workers would give rise to a new social culture. 
This urban development mode only focusing on big cities apparently have its problems. It will give rise to new urban poverty ceaselessly. Therefore, the urbanization mode needs to be adjusted continually and gradually developed to include medium- and small-sized cities. 
So the core issue is to decentralize its function of production growth and economic growth to those medium- and small-sized cities. We should transfer educational resources, sanitation resources and other resources and services to those cities.
Only in this way can we realize the so-called public social resource equalization. Such kind of allocation as the basic precondition is very important. 
您刚才说的这个,因为我也在学习,看到英文很多资料里面讲这些decentralized urbanization。像您刚才说的这个模式,是不是就指的是这一点?
I am also studying so I understand what you’ve mentioned just now. Many English materials talked about decentralized urbanization. Does the mode that you just said refer to this? 
Right. It is the so-called decentralized industrialization mode. In fact, that is what China now is facing. The main philosophy of our urbanization is to push forward medium- and small-sized cities’ urbanization. 
Especially for small cities, we should reinforce their economic function, service function and resource-pooling function. 
Only in such circumstances will a person feel it reasonable to live and work there. I can totally realize my urban dream. I can totally realize my fortune-making dream. I need not go to Shanghai or Beijing. 
Only when this problem is unraveled, the issue of overly-crowded city caused by floating population and the resulting non-sustainable urban development,as well as crime, pollution and overly-centralized resource problems can be resolved safely.
Medium- and small-sized cities also need to be industrialized. 
In fact, I’m telling of the decentralized urbanization. 
The difference between decentralized urbanization and centralized urbanization is to translocate the economic functions, service functions and other functions from big cities and megacities to medium- and small-sized cities. 
That is the basic meaning of decentralized urbanization. 
Can you give me some good examples in China at present? Just like what you said about Zhejiang province. 
I think that China has been the best in Asia in respect of urbanization. China’s rural area has developed very well in the past years. And China will offer a very good example of urbanization for the world in the coming two decades.  
China’s urbanization rate has increased from 20% in 1982 to more than 50% at present. In 2011, China’s urbanization rate was 57%.
If this trend goes on, another 100 million rural people will flow into cities. During this process, the central Chinese government is pretty sure about this fact: the orientation of urbanization is medium- and small-sized cities. 
Now, this policy is very clear. In many medium- and small-sized cities, such as Zhuhai and Shantou in Guangdong, Yiwu and Jinhua in Zhejiang, you can see the driving force of medium- and small-sized cities’ urbanization. 
Medium- and small-sized cities in northwest and southwest China have been developing very rapidly in the past few years. They have become the best conjunction point of urban and rural development in the course of urbanization. They are absorbing large quantities of rural population. 
As a result, it reduces large quantities of rural population from flowing into big cities. At the same time, it is generating considerable economic, social and recreational functions. In this respect, I think that China has provided very good examples. 
Today, you talked about Zhejiang. My family has the background of Zhejiang, so I’m very familiar with Zhejiang. But I do not know about other provinces, such as Gansu and Ningxia. They were not like Zhejiang, were they? In the past. 
No, they were not, in the past. 
Because Zhejiang takes lead in China. It is comparatively affluent. 
But now, they are a lot alike. The regions in northwest and west China are catching up. The medium- and small-cities in west China are much more beautiful now. 
As you can see, our overall industrialization is progressing gradually. In the past, our best industrialization was the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta. Now the urbanization in west China is catching up rapidly. 
For example, Sichuan, Chongqing. And in Northwest China, like Shaanxi and Ningxia, they are all pushing forward the development of medium- and small-sized cities. They are doing very well. 
You have in fact answered this question. What kind of suggestions do you have for the government? What different suggestions do you have for the government concerning policies on urbanization? 
I believe that the Chinese government has done pretty well in many sectors of urbanization. The international community has also given many suggestions. Here’re several problems. One is about changing economic growth focus to economic growth, social service, culture and politics, etc. 
These functions cannot be unified in one single place. This is the core. For example, Beijing has unified all these functions such as tourism center, politics center, and cultural center. This is not right. We should set up different centers. We should decentralize these functions. 
Some regions focus on services. For example, some cities put a premium on medical treatment. They are doing very well. Some regions are good at recreation. They have different functions. Now, we decentralize these functions and try to make the overall urbanization sustainable through this form. This is the core. 
That might weaken the GDP of big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai as the economic growth decreases. Then, what else shall we transform? We should transform the competitive local government. The local governments all compete for GDP. 
What shall we consider from now on? Fristly, the level of urbanization shall be estimated with sustainable urban development as the standard instead of GDP. What is the next? We should consider the linkage between industry and value chains. This is very important. 
What does it mean? This is very professional. For instance, an industry in your region must be in need of different service industries. To cut costs, workers for such industries have to live nearby while considering the distance. 
This would be troublesome. You cannot do it all alone. As long as you launch a software business, you have to get a car there. Many people have to serve it. 
In such circumstances, you need to consider the allocation of the overall industrial chain. The urbanization is in fact a sustainable process. It is more than developing small cities and medium-sized cities. It is very complicated. 
China is considering this, including the mini-city issue we talked about. We’re translocating education resources, economic resources, sanitation resources, and other high-quality resources, all in a bid to promote this, especially in Beijing. 
The integration of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei is also considering this issue. I feel that China has actually realized this problem and is trying to find out some ways, some substitutes. 
Here’s another question that someone asked earlier: “What are the rural-urban linkages beyond migration?” I reckon that he was asking about whether the poverty gap between cities and rural areas was caused by migration. 
What’s our last question? It is about the problem of rural and urban poverty. In addition to the new poverty caused by the dynamic relationship of inflow and outflow of migrants,  
the rural-urban difference itself, especially the inequality of our social security system has also given rise to some certain urban-rural difference. 
What’s the core of this problem? It’s the urban-rural binary structure which has been formed for a long time. Our urban social security differs from the rural social security. The urban minimum living guarantee standard is higher than the rural standard. 
The urban medical security, reimbursement scope and percentage are much higher than the rural cooperative medical service. 
So the uneven urban-rural difference is the core problem of urban-rural poverty. I think so.