The effect of government policies on the quality of life of returning migrants in county towns in Western China : a case study of Chongqing Municipality
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Since the ‘Open Door’ policy became widely used in China’s coastal cities in the early 1990s, economic growth in coastal areas (mainly focused on the eastern region) has been more rapid than those in areas that have not benefitted from economic and urban development policy priorities (the central and western regions). Some concerns have been expressed about the quality of life of migrant workers who have been involved in enabling this growth. Most studies have concentrated on the migrant workers in host cities in coastal areas (Zhu, 2006; RGNBS, 2007); few studies have focused on returning migrants’(especially returning peasant workers’) quality of life after their return to their home cities. This research will particularly focus on returning peasant workers’ quality of life. Since the early 1980s, a large number of migrant workers have moved from rural areas of the western regions in China to coastal cities in the eastern provinces. These workers found jobs and became temporary residents in the destination cities. However, due to a variety of complex reasons, most of them have not settled down permanently. In recent years, as the country has adopted policies to accelerate development in the western regions and many manufacturers are moving to the west, increasingly migrant workers choosing to return to their area of origin. However, instead of returning to their original villages, new return migrants prefer to settle down in county towns close to their original home, and to engage in non-agricultural work. This returning phenomenon is having an increased impact on the urbanisation process at the county town level in western China. More importantly, it raises concerns about the quality of life of these returning migrants and raises issues for the government, in terms of the need to better accommodate them. This research aims to develop an understanding of the two-way interaction between the government’s urban management and social policies and the needs of returning migrants in county towns of western China, and to identify potential policy improvements to support the quality of life of returning migrants. To achieve this aim, this research explores the link between migration and urbanisation in western China, investigates the status of returning migrants, identifies the main drivers for their return, develops an understanding of their experience of resettlement, and assesses the effectiveness of government management and social policies in addressing the needs of these migrants. This research combines both qualitative and quantitative approaches, focusing on Chongqing municipality in western China as a case study, and selecting three county towns of the city as the focus of the investigation. In recent years, Chongqing has become a significant “growth pole” and its development is a microcosm of China and a representative of the western region. The three county towns within the city municipality are selected based on their economic level to ensure the study is representative of western China. Data was collected through a questionnaire survey with 450 returning migrants and 30 interviews with selected migrants as well as government officials in the different counties. The research found that factors that caused migrants in Chongqing to move away were shortage of job opportunities, very low income and a poor rural living environment, among others. When central government policies favoured economic development of Western China, especially after Chongqing was municipalised, economic development was strengthened, especially in Chongqing city urban areas. A number of migrants returned to Chongqing, attracted by stronger economic development in local areas. This research found that return migrants’ quality of life varied depending on individual conditions. Finally, this research looked into how government policies affected returned migrants’ quality of life, and identified a range of difficulties returned migrants face, including changed living environments, integration of urban and rural life, social activities changes, managing of family relationships and adaption of consumption ideas. Finally, recommendations are provided focused on setting up effective policies that relate to returned migrants’ quality of life requirements, such as self-employment support services, better social provision services, and children’s education services.