The Development of Migrant Villages under China's Rapid Urbanization: Implications for Poverty and Slum Policies

In the past three decades, China has experienced rapid urbanization, manifested through large scale rural-to-urban migration, economic restructuring and urban redevelopment. This has led to extensive transformations in the urbanscape, often characterized by distinctive and contrasting spaces such as urbanized migrant villages (chengzhongcun) and adjacent suburban gated communities. The emergence of these urbanized migrant villages has constituted a major bottleneck in the governmental policy domain. The formal approach has been growth-oriented and market driven, though controversial in nature. These villages are treated as 'chaotic dilapidated place' thereby, being subject to demolition and comprehensive redevelopment.

The project endeavours to study the development of migrant villages under the well established and proliferating paradigm of slums dynamics and the norm of urban informality and deregulation. The study touches upon the basic policy dilemma in Chinese context - whether these urbanized migrant villages are to be treated as 'slums' and be subjected to demolition and redevelopment or, if they are mere manifestations of urban informalization phenomenon, as has been evident in other developing countries.

China Daily press articles on the project


  • To study the dynamics of migrant village formation, examine the existing redevelopment practices and policies
  • To identify the scope for progressive upgrading as an alternative approach
  • Develop qualitative and quantitative approaches to identify the housing tenure, socioeconomic profiles, landlords' self construction tactics, migrants' coping strategies, and existing and new institutions as appropriate vehicles for in-situ redevelopment.

Research outline

Given the complexity of the topic and the scale of Chinese urban landscape, the research was based on a series of case studies of peri-urban informal settlements  from the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.  The heart of the study was based on:

  • A series of face-to-face semi-structured interviews conducted at 4-5 migrant villages from each of the three cities to investigate the formation, composition and redevelopment practices of the informal settlements
  • A set of twenty statistically representative migrant villages from each of the three cities were chosen and a pseudo-random sample of 900 households drawn. A household survey of the urban living conditions in these households was conducted to provide an objective assessment of poverty. Questionnaires based on Likert scales and dichotomous variables constituted the qualitative components of the survey.

For further information, please contact:

Professor Fulong Wu ( or Professor Chris Webster (

School of City and Regional Planning,
Cardiff University,
CF10 3WA, 
United Kingdom