Changing spatial patterns of internal migration to five major urban agglomerations in China

Journal article

Internal migration in China has presented a series of new characteristics recently. The secondary migration and spatial redistribution of existing migrants become increasingly important in determining the future patterns of urbanization.

Urban agglomerations (UAs) have long been the major destination of China's internal migration. They are also appointed as the main form of future urbanization in the recently released national planning of new-type urbanization. Five major UAs were selected as a case study, including three coastal ones, namely the Yangtze River Delta (YRD), the Pearl River Delta (PRD), and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region (BTH), and two inland ones, namely the Middle Yangtze River (MYR) and the Chengdu-Chongqing (CC) region.

Based on data of the latest population census and the dynamic monitoring survey of floating population in the five major UAs, this paper first examined the spatial patterns of in-migrants from multiple dimensions of destination, origin, and distance of migration. The trends and urbanization effects of migration on the destination and origin were then assessed by comparing the settlement and hukou transfer intentions of migrants with different origins and destinations.

The results showed the coexistence of common and distinct features in these mega regions. Although the continuous attractiveness of central cities for migrants was observed in all regions, peripheral cities in the YRD and PRD have become increasingly attractive as well, leading to a moderately dispersing trend in these two pioneering coastal UAs.

Moreover, the concentration level and spatial distribution of migrants among cities were generally stable in the YRD and PRD but continuously adjusting in the BTH and two inland UAs. The fastest growth was found in inter-county migration within province and the slowest in intra-county migration. The coastal UAs were strongly preferred by inter-provincial migrants, while the inland ones could only attract migrants from the same or surrounding provinces. Despite this, significant distance attenuation was found in all of them. In terms of the origins of migrants, those from central provinces had flowed mainly to the YRD and PRD, whereas those from the northeast showed a high preference for the BTH region.

We can anticipate the future patterns of migration and urbanization from the settlement intentions of migrants from and to different cities. From the destination view, the advantage in public services made central cities considerably more attractive than other cities. Hence, they are expected to be continuously faced with severe contradiction between supply and demand of public services. In the inland UAs, however, central cities and ordinary ones are able to share the pressure of public service provision. From the original view, the high-quality and equally accessible public services are important for inland regions to attract return migrants, and providing high possibility for the return-migration-induced urbanization.

However, the population loss in the northeast may become a long-term trend that is unlikely to be reversed in the visible future.

Guangzhong Cao
Sichuang Chen
Tao Liu
Vol. 76 Issue 6, 2021
Migration and Cities