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Change to urban identity

12-21-2011 15:34 BJT

BEIJING, Dec. 21 (Xinhuanet) -- For the first time in history, there will be more urban dwellers than rural residents in China, according to the 2012 Blue Book on China's Society released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Scholars involved in its compilation hail this as a milestone moment for the country, and for a historically agricultural civilization like ours, crossing this threshold will be.

The transition from a rural to an urban society will mean not only a structural change in the nation's demographics, but also changes in people's ways of life, consumption behavior and personal values that will have profound effects on the economy and society as a whole.

Crossing the threshold from a rural to an urban society means the pace of urbanization will accelerate conspicuously, injecting tremendous vitality into the economy.

And experts expect urbanization to serve as a new engine for progress, as urbanization creates new demands and these demands propel the economy forward. So the rural population, which is considered a drag by many, is in fact a huge reservoir of market potential. This may translate into an unrivaled advantage, especially as the economic decision-makers shift the focus from overseas to domestic demand.

However, there are still concerns about whether this threshold really has been crossed, because the slightly more than 50 percent of the population defined as urban residents in the blue book, includes workers who are registered as rural residents but work in cities.

That numerous "new urban residents", as they are termed in some of our more outsider-friendly cities, continue to share the collective designation "nong min gong", literally "farmer-workers", shows how difficult and incomplete the identity change is.

Physically living and working in a city does not turn a person of rural origin into an urban resident under the still rigid household residence registration regime.

In most cases, those carrying the nong min gong label, no matter what they do and how long they have been living and working in cities, are still treated as aliens.

The majority of them are effectively excluded from the welfare guarantees available only to those officially registered as urban dwellers and their children are denied access to the education their officially registered counterparts enjoy.

Such "urbanization" is nominal, and will not deliver the kind of benefits the scholarly rhetoric boasts.

The blue book's account of urbanization, therefore, cannot really be regarded as a sociological truth. Given urbanization's essential significance for the nation's future prosperity, there is an imperative need to review and reshuffle the obsolete rules sustaining the urban-rural divide.

Some cities have already worked out sensible approaches to their new urban residents, and as these practices accumulate, those that are successful should prompt progress at strategic levels.

Editor:Zhang Hao |Source: Xinhua

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