Jump to: all posts in the More Than Migrants Series

Migrant: a person that travels to a different country or place, often to find work.  

A migrant is anyone who moves from one place to another in the hope of finding better opportunities. In China, the topic of migration is connected to the “hukou system”: a system of household registration.

The hukou system

China has had different forms of household registration systems for thousands of years, primarily to ensure taxation, military service, and to control migration. Since the ’50s, the hukou system divides the people into two: people living in urban areas, and people living in rural areas. People from rural areas are allowed to move to the city, but without the urban hukou, they don’t have access to social security. They are not entitled to unemployment benefits or retirement pensions in the city.

In recent years efforts have been made to grant more urban hukou, but it remains difficult for migrants to obtain one, especially in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Moreover, if you obtain an urban hukou, you lose your rural hukouThis means losing the right to own land which can be used both for agriculture and personal use.

In 2015, approximately 169 million people in China lived in an urban area without the urban hukou. Besides practical problems, there is a range of difficulties migrants deal with: they live in a place very different from what they know; parents, partners, friends, and children may be left behind; they speak different languages; have different customs; and are seen as outsiders.

Why do we do the Series?

All Series share one goal: to understand groups that are often misrepresented and more vulnerable to prejudice; and to explore ways to act positive and in an inclusive way. We focus on a category to understand it and deconstruct it. 

Categories and labels are limited, sometimes misleading, and often flawed and incomplete, but they can also be very useful. They are necessary to understand groups that share experiences and histories different from yours, to recognize discrimination, to help people find themselves, and to build supportive communities – not to mention promote and consolidate rights.

Although categories and labels can guide us to explore ourselves, and others more, we shouldn’t end there. That is why each article, story, and video, encompasses the category but underlines the individual.

Why More than Migrants?

People migrate for all sorts of reasons, but only sometimes by choice. Though they may have different reasons, the challenges they face, are often similar: many encounter xenophobia and classism. 

There is more to migrants than moving to a place, there is more to migrants than finding opportunities; there is what is left behind, and there is all that it takes to search for and build a better life in a strange place that often treats you as the stranger.

And there is more to migrants than the struggle as well. In every migrant, we can anticipate common stories, but in every migrant, there is a unique experience that belongs to a unique individual.

There is always more than a migrant.

All Posts in the More Than Migrants Series

My Dream Is…
In one of Pyramid of Babel’s empowerment classes in a Shanghai migrant school, students represented themselves in the present through Read more
Subtle Happiness
By Zhuqing Wang Liu Qingyun was sitting on a wooden stool next to the sidewalk and looked at the row Read more
The Chinese Dream: The Lives of China’s Migrant Workers
By Marcella M. The first time I went to China, I arrived just a few days before the Spring Festival. Read more
A Long Way From Home
By Zhuqing Wang When I met Yan Xiang, he was pushing a janitorial cart on the second floor of the Read more
Left-Behind
Previous Next A series by photographer Hibshy Samsadin “After being unsettled by the prospects of a financial career in the Read more
Shanghai: Welcoming Yet Full of Challenges
By Zhuqing Wang Walking through the bustling city of Shanghai, you may notice that many people struggle to stick to Read more