Researching the Research


With less than one month until I leave for China, I have been doing a lot of preparation for living and researching in Shanghai. Despite my research, I do not think I will be ready until I am on the ground engaging with different communities and organizations in Shanghai, and I am truly excited for my summer to begin. I am looking forward to learning more about the social issues that I am passionate about and the fields that I hope to work in in the future.

Here is an overview of current migrant education policy issues in China.

  1. Background
  2. Breaking News
  3. Policy Analysis
  4. Rice/Houston Faculty Connection
  5. Reflection
  6. Works Cited


China is the fourth largest country in the world, spanning almost 10 million square kilometers (about 3.9 million square miles). With this geographical spread comes great topological and meteorological diversity. In the west, the land is full of mountains, plateaus, and deserts, whereas the east contains more plains, deltas, and hills. The climate ranges from tropical in the south to subarctic in the north. The Chinese government recognizes 56 ethnic groups, of which the Han Chinese represent the clear majority (91.6% of the population). This can sometimes cause tensions between the central Chinese government and ethnic minorities, most notably the Tibetans and the Uyghurs.[1]

Today, China is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. For centuries China was one of the most advanced civilizations in terms of arts and sciences. Due to famines, military defeats, and occupation, China struggled with civil unrest during the 19th and 20th centuries. After World War II, Mao Zedong established a communist government that strictly controlled everyday life and cost the lives of millions of people. Since 1978, successive leaders have focused on market-oriented reforms to raise productivity and make up for the progress that had been lost during Mao’s regime. Although Chinese people see better living standards and more personal choice, the government still retains tight political controls.

Economic reform has brought about many changes to China, starting with more rural areas in 1978. New policies broke down the collectivization of agriculture and other state industrial sectors and introduced a system of household responsibility. Rapid growth increased the level of urbanization as well, and the number of cities in China increased from 193 in 1979 to 663 in 1999.[2] Increased diversity in employment opportunities and higher levels of household income transformed urban economies and raised the standard of living in cities and towns. However, living conditions in rural areas did not rise as rapidly due to a lack of further innovation and development. Low demand and low incomes for rural workers caused a massive flow of migration of rural workers searching for work in urban areas.[3] China is a society in two types of transition: a social one (from a traditional, rural, semi-closed society to a modern, industrialized, open society) and an economic one (from a highly centralized planned economic system to a socialist market economic system).[4]

Shanghai is the largest city in China with a population of more than 24 million people. It is one of the four direct-controlled municipalities in China (along with Beijing, Tianjin, and Chongqing), which means that it is both a city and a province and forms part of the first tier, or provincial level, of administrative divisions. As such, Shanghai has the same administrative powers as a province. As the commercial and financial center of mainland China, it is an attractive place for rural migrants looking for work. The moderate climate and fertile soil give Shanghai and its surrounding area an advantage in agriculture development, so rural workers are also able to use their skills in sectors like urban farming, as well as other informal sectors like hospice care. Unfortunately, migrants without the local hukou (described in the Policy Analysis section) are unable to find employment in the formal economy, as this requires that they have residency verification and other documentation.

The desire of migrants to pursue more economic opportunities and their lack of access to local government services inform a large part of my research. Throughout my research, I will be engaging in and integrating myself into the communities with the goal of more fully understanding their experiences. I will also be sharing my research from my observations and analyses to the communities and other groups. The founder of Collective Responsibility is also the founder of an NGO called Hands On Shanghai that specializes in volunteering and working with thousands of migrants in Shanghai and other cities in China. Hopefully, this will act as a good entry point for me to speak to and learn from the communities. After I compile my research, I will be writing an issue brief on the use of technology in education to share my insights based on my interactions with migrant communities. I will also have the chance to create infographics for social media release and develop blog posts to inform people of the issues at stake.

Collective Responsibility takes a rather raw approach to research that is very on-the-ground and bold. My days can range from grinding data in the library, to taking the streets trying to interview people, to engaging with experts within the field. Through this more informal process, I can uncover what I would not get through more “formal” methods. The organization’s research is currently aimed toward multinationals with arms in China and informing them about what actions they can take in the context of some of China’s most pertinent social issues. Although Collective Responsibility keeps up with the activity of the local and national governments, it has no active involvement at present.

With Collective Responsibility, I will be describing current migrant education policies and fully presenting the possibilities of the role that technology can play. When local governments are unable to change their policies to greater support growing and shifting populations, other organizations must step in to provide what is missing. Hopefully, my research will be able to impact the way NGOs and non-profits operate by fully informing their potential actions to decrease the disparities between rural and urban education systems.


Campbell, Charlie. “Ordinary Citizens Are Hoping to Make a Difference at China’s Biggest Political Meet-Up.” Time. 1 March 2017. Web.

Every year, government leaders in China gather in Beijing for the “two sessions”: the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress. This is time for the Chinese Communist Party to decide which current issues are the most pressing, though delegates usually overwhelming agree with the policies set by President Xi Jinping. Despite this, the “two sessions” provide other actors with the rare opportunity to make arguments for reform or shifts in policy. This year, some of the biggest issues include the dramatic growth of the elderly population, the increase in “left-behind children,” the need to safeguard the environment, the revitalization of state-owned enterprises, the possible introduction of supercrops, the fight against telecoms scams, and the improvement of rural health care.

This relates to my country of interest because it discusses some of the major political issues of China in the current moment. It is widely recognized that the central government maintains a lot of power over the political agenda. Nevertheless, one of the major issues mentioned in this article is the poor quality of rural health care. This touches on some of the push factors that cause migrants to want to move to the cities in search of better opportunities and living conditions.

Dorjee, Rinzin. “China’s Urbancide in Tibet.” The Diplomat. 17 March 2017. Web.

Due to the loosening of hukou policy, increased numbers of ethnically Han Chinese people from the coasts are moving to regions like Tibet, which are much less densely populated and give much more subsidized aid to residents. This causes the further deterioration of Tibetan culture during a time in which the central government is already pushing a nationalist agenda. Tibetans themselves are also moving from rural to urban areas, both voluntarily and not. The Chinese government is acquiring Tibetan land, and soon most of the land in the Tibet Autonomous Region will be in the ownership of Chinese migrants, major businesses, and the state.

This relates to my country and issue of interest because it describes the impacts that rapid urbanization has on rural, marginalized populations. The issue of internal migration is relevant throughout the country, not just in Shanghai. This article shows the pertinence and possible wider impacts of my research.

Fisher, Max, and Taub, Amanda. “Trump Deportation Order Risk: Immigrants Driven Underground.” The New York Times. 23 February 2017. Web.

Trump’s hardline stance on deportation risks creating an American underclass similar to that of internal rural migrants in China due to the hukou policy. In the United States, undocumented immigrants have always been in a state of limbo, officially illegal but often tolerated. However, President Trump aims at reconciling the contradiction in American immigration policies. As a result, his policies would further increase the already heavy burdens on undocumented migrants. America’s undocumented immigrants live under a contradiction, in which the millions who live in the United States and boost local economies are always at risk of deportation.

This relates to my issue of interest because it discusses policy actions toward migrant populations in the United States. China’s migrant workers have been struggling for a long time, and President Trump will potentially recreate that struggle in the United States with his policies. This article provides some insight into how social issues in one part of the world can been replicated in other countries.

Sheehan, Spencer. “China’s Hukou Reforms and the Urbanization Challenge.” The Diplomat. 22 February 2017. Web.

China’s government has announced it lofty goal of expanding urban hukou to 100 million migrant workers by 2020 to help rebalance its economy. With its proposed policies, the central government is trying to quell any potential unrest and provide social services to a huge and growing demographic group of 277 million migrant workers. However, the government needs numerous supporting policies to achieve this goal but may not have the financing to provide them. Policy experiments in Chongqing proved successful in providing three million urban hukou and 13 million square meters of public housing, but the $15 billion cost of affecting such large-scale improvement is simply too high for most cities to handle. At the end of 2016, local governments across China had a total of RMB 17 trillion ($2.5 trillion) worth of debt. This means that local governments are struggling to meet the demand for services from large inflows of new residents.

This relates to my country and issue of interest because it discusses some of the more practical concerns in policymaking. At this point, local governments simply do not have the funding to provide services to so many, even if they and their constituencies were willing to do so. This article acknowledges the scope of the problem and of its potential solution, and it gives information on factors to consider when creating policy suggestions.


As a country in transition, China is struggling to deal with the consequences of changing demographics. Some remnants from past systems do not easily translate into its modern society, one of which is the hukou system. To ensure structural stability, China instituted the hukou system, or household registration system, that identifies a person and their family as a resident of an area. Someone seeking to move from the country to the city for work must apply through the relevant bureaucratic offices, and the number of people allowed to work in other provinces is strictly limited.[5] People who work outside their authorized area cannot qualify for health care, education, or other services provided by local governments. Therefore, the hukou policy regulates labor and, in the 1970s, ensured that low-cost labor remained available to state enterprises.

In the last ten years, significant numbers of the rural population have moved to urban areas to fill industrial jobs. Because they do not hold the local hukou, migrants cannot receive any services usually provided by local governments. This makes living in urban areas very expensive because there is no financial support for health care, education, and housing. Migrants must supply multiple legal documents and pay countless miscellaneous fees to enter local urban schools, and many of these certificates and documents are difficult and costly to obtain.

The lack of educational resources for migrant children is a major problem in China. Even though the law requires 9 years of education, local urban schools still deny admission to migrant children. Therefore, most migrant children attend either government subsidized private schools or unlicensed migrant schools, which are much more affordable. However, these migrant schools receive significantly less governmental funding, are very crowded, and often have limited resources.

By 2020, urban areas will need to provide services to 100 million new migrants and around 20 million additional children. If nothing is done to address this issue, the already growing gap between urban students and migrant students in terms of educational quality will continue to worsen. Whether it is local governments or non-profit organizations, someone will have to produce the money for the education of existing and new migrant children.

China’s rapid urbanization creates large-scale economic, social, and environmental consequences. My research will be used to support Collective Responsibility’s consulting projects. By providing accurate information about the current situation and potential solutions, my research could perhaps pave a way for greater advocacy and action in the policy realm of migrant education.


For my local faculty connection, I spoke with Jie Wu from the Kinder Institute of Urban Research at Rice University. She is the director of research management at the Kinder Institute. After her graduate study at Rice, she joined the Institute and provides project management and research support for several of the Institute’s studies. Much of her research focuses on labor economics, particularly on the intersection between education and labor. She has been a part of many studies, including the Houston Area Asian Survey; the Survey on Health, Education, and the Arts; Migration and Urban Growth project; the Opportunity Youth study; and the ongoing Kinder Houston Area Survey. Her research interest focuses on public opinion, racial disparity, human capital, migration, and economic growth. She received her master’s degree in economics from Rice University and her bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Shanghai International Studies University.

I learned a lot from my discussion with Ms. Wu. She gave me a realistic view of the differences between researching policy in China and in the United States. She has also researched migrant workers in China and has connections to sociologists who are currently in the area doing research on the migrant populations in China.

In China, there are different definitions for those who can be categorized as permanent migrants and those who are transient populations. Migrant workers often work in the informal economy or the service, construction, and urban farming sectors. It is difficult for migrants to find manufacturing jobs in state-owned factories, since they need some sort of local status to be able to apply to these positions. Migrants are an extremely important part of the Chinese economy, since they provide labor to needed sectors, like service and hospice care, that residents would be unwilling to provide.

Ms. Wu also introduced me to sources to consult before and during my research. Following her recommendations, I will consult JSTOR for sociological studies done in English by Chinese researchers on the hukou policy and perform literature reviews to create a summary of the policy’s effects on migrant populations. The Chinese and Shanghai Academies of Social Sciences (社科院shekeyuan) have demographic projections that can help me analyze the changing population of China in the next five to ten years. The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences has a specific office that deals with the issues of migrants by performing some experiments and creating policy suggestions. However, the city of Guangzhou tends to do more experiments, so I could look there for more case studies. In general, municipal governments produce heat maps of where migrant populations live within a city, since the central government has a lot of oversight over changes in people’s residency statuses. Professors at Shanghai University and Nanjing University are doing research on migrant policies through large-scale interviews and surveys.

Additionally, I will be doing more research into the history of the expansion of the city of Shanghai. According to Ms. Wu, I will have different experiences interacting with migrant populations when I am in different districts within the city. The area around the Collective Responsibility office is somewhat affluent, with relatively few migrants except for those who work in the service sector, but many districts on the outskirts of the city face a much different situation. Faced with the inability to find jobs, some migrants have started their own migrant schools in the suburbs of Shanghai to provide migrant children with education, but these schools struggle to survive due to the severe lack of funds. Many children stay in their hometowns while their parents leave to work in the city, but this creates yet another problem of the “living orphan,” in which children in more rural areas are often raised by other relatives and lack parental nurturing and support during some of their most formative years during childhood.

After my discussion with Ms. Wu, I feel more informed about how governmental systems that shape how policy is affected and implemented. The state systems for education in the United States and China are very different, and the questions that are appropriate to ask in Houston are most likely not very useful to ask in Shanghai. In China, funding raised by local and municipal governments goes to the central government and to resources, like social security, for registered locals. If the hukou policy were to loosen without any other changes, there would be no way for local governments to support the inevitable sudden influx of rural migrants. The first responsibility of local governments is to take care of education for locals, and they simply do not have the resources to provide social security for everyone. There have been some small-scale experiments to loosen the hukou in some public schools in large cities, but these spots are extremely few, and private education is still largely impossible to access for migrants.

There is a place for non-profits and NGOs to step in to support schools for migrant education, since the local governments are unable and unwilling to do so. However, to truly solve the growing disparities in migrant education, it seems that there will need to be some form of government support, whether through an innovative financing model that can fund public schooling for migrant children or an alternative certification process for schools set up for migrant children. I will keep these issues in mind when pursuing my research, and I truly believe that having this context will inform my research and provide me with an accurate framework to use when setting goals for my project.


  1. Why did you choose this country and issue? What is your personal connection?

I chose to work on the issue of migrant education in China because I have a personal connection to what happens in China. My parents immigrated to the United States from China in the 1990s, and the Chinese culture is still a large part of my life. I speak Mandarin at home and observe many Chinese holidays and traditions. However, I do believe that my relationship to my heritage is a bit superficial, as I have never had an opportunity to spend longer than a month in China. I do not believe that I have a true understanding of the social and cultural norms of China. I wanted to choose a research project in China so that I could have the opportunity to learn more about my own background and perhaps discover the reasons that my parents and sister left but continue to return to their home.

I chose the issue of migrant education because I want to work in the field of community development in the future. I believe that education is the way toward increasing opportunities for oneself, and I believe that depriving someone of their education is cruel. Therefore, I wanted to research migrant education policy in China, which combines my interests in analyzing disparities and promoting education.

  1. What questions about the country/issue were you unable to address through the ISP?

Through the ISP, I was unable to answer some questions about how migrants view the actions of local governments. I was also unable to answer how local government officials view migrants. I do have some ideas of what their attitudes may be toward each other, but I do not want my preconceptions to affect my research. I believe that I will only be able to realize the answers to these two questions once I am in China and speaking to local officials, migrant populations and their families, and other stakeholders in the issue of migrant education.

  1. What further topics about the country/issue would you like to study?

In the future, I would like to do more research in the impacts of migration, both in China and in other areas around the world. For example, I will be studying abroad in France in Spring 2018, and while I am there I would like to research the economic effects of urban planning for migrant flows in France. I would like to develop expertise in the field of education policy relating to the migration of people, so I would like to study how refugee crises and sudden incoming and outgoing flows of people affect education systems differently in different countries.

[1] “China” in The World Factbook (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, continually updated).

[2] “General Survey of Cities” in Annual Data (Beijing: National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2000).

[3] Ya Ping Wang, “Introduction” in Urban Poverty, Housing and Social Change in China (New York: Routledge, 2004), 3.

[4] Wang, “Society in Transition” in Urban Poverty, Housing and Social Change in China, 10.

[5] Aprodicio A. Laquian, Beyond Metropolis: The Planning and Governance of Asia’s Mega-Urban Regions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, 320-321.


Annual Data. Beijing: National Bureau of Statistics of China. Continually updated.

Campbell, Charlie. “Ordinary Citizens Are Hoping to Make a Difference at China’s Biggest Political Meet-Up.” Time. 1 March 2017. Web.

Dorjee, Rinzin. “China’s Urbancide in Tibet.” The Diplomat. 17 March 2017. Web.

Fisher, Max, and Amanda Taub. “Trump Deportation Order Risk: Immigrants Driven Underground.” The New York Times. 23 February 2017. Web.

Laquian, Aprodicio A. Beyond Metropolis: The Planning and Governance of Asia’s Mega-Urban Regions. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Sheehan, Spencer. “China’s Hukou Reforms and the Urbanization Challenge.” The Diplomat. 22 February 2017. Web.

Wang, Ya Ping. Urban Poverty, Housing and Social Change in China. New York: Routledge, 2004.

The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency. Continually updated.


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