Martin Whyte (Harvard University)

"Can China Close its Huge Rural-Urban Gap?"

19 March 2013, 4:30 pm


China today may have the sharpest social cleavage between its rural and urban citizens of any country on earth, with urban households on average having close to 4 times the income of rural households.  Paradoxically, this sharp social cleavage is mainly a legacy of the socialist system of the Mao era, rather than a product of the market reforms launched in 1978—even though Mao Zedong himself had rural origins and led a peasant revolution to power in 1949 with a program of promoting social equality.  For more than a decade China’s leaders have pledged to close the rural-urban gap, and the new Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader, Xi Jinping, is no exception.  In my remarks I will explore the origins of China’s peculiar two caste system, some of the specific kinds of discrimination experienced by rural citizens and rural-urban migrants, and why it has been so difficult for the CCP leaders to live up to their pledges to provide equal treatment and opportunities for villagers and urbanites.