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The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Impact of urban-rural return migration on rural economic development in China - with implications for Vietnam

Research Partners:

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Principal Investigator: Wenfei Winnie Wang. Lead Organisation: University of Bristol

Co-investigators: Qiangn Ren; Jianfa Shen; Yu Zhu

Migration is an essential element in the livelihoods of households in Least Developed Countries as a diversification strategy. However, the poorest families at origins are left out and failed to benefit from it as migration remains a selected process. Despite China's economic achievement over the past 30 years, poverty still persists, especially in remote rural China. Urban-rural return migrants who are equipped with accumulated human, financial, and social capital through their migration experiences are capable of acting as agents of change to reduce rural-urban disparities, facilitate rural economic development and help rural poor to exit poverty.

This research will investigate impact of urban-rural return migration on rural economic development in China and how results are transferable to China's neighbouring country Vietnam. It will investigate ways that returnees contribute to local rural economy, their decision-making process, and key institutions and policies affecting their entrepreneurial activities. Variations between groups, across time and places will also be examined using a retrospective longitudinal multi-level approach.

The proposed research addresses the first two overarching research questions. It aims to evaluate ways and effectiveness of returnees' agency role in reducing rural-urban disparity and helping rural poor, mainly the non-migrant households, exit poverty. Eighteen hundred returnee households are to be sampled from 120 villages, 40 counties in 8 provinces with different levels of economic development to ensure that key local conditions, including institutions and policies, conductive to returnees' economic success will be identified. This will help us understand actors that promote such conditions and investigate the possibility and the scales to create such conditions elsewhere.

It will be carried out in five phases. First, thorough documentary and archival research will be conducted. Second, microdata of Chinese 2000 and 2010 census will be analysed to examine the changing patterns of return migration and its relationship with place characteristics. Third, a survey of 1800 returnee and 600 non-migrant households will be conducted. Fourth, in-depth interviews of 80 successful returnee entrepreneurs will be carried out to investigate further key institutions, policies and local conditions conductive to their economics success. Finally, collected data will be analysed and findings will be disseminated to both academic and non-academic audiences internationally.

The empirical findings will enrich our understanding on conditions and institutional context that stimulate rural development and help the rural poor exit poverty. It provides great implications for policy makers in China on how to effectively incorporate return migration and foster returnees' entrepreneurial activities in its strategic guidance for rural development and reducing rural-urban disparities. In a global context, the results will have wider relevance for other developing nations such as Vietnam, which is replicating China's development model successfully and also facing similar issues in rural deprivation and rising rural-urban disparities. Various engagements and activities are proposed to ensure the transfer of the project results to Vietnam. Both quantitative and qualitative methods will be used to enhance the robustness and completeness of the research results. A primary data set will be created suitable for multilevel modelling through complex and innovative research design techniques and sampling methods. The datasets will be fully documented and deposited at the UK Data Archive for further exploration.

The proposed research has both an international and a multidisciplinary scope. Six migration experts with extensive research experiences from different disciplines from UK, Hong Kong China and Vietnam form a strong and fully qualified team to successfully carry out this project.

Four levels of beneficiaries can be identified for this proposal: project partners; wider academic community; central and local governments and policy makers in China and Vietnam; local rural residents in survey counties.

Project partners

The investigating team is comprised of academic staffs and their research assistants from six institutions from UK, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam. Their research expertise and knowledge will benefit directly from the outcome of the project. The employment of seven young research assistants contributes greatly to capacity building especially in China and Vietnam.

Wider Academic Community

Given the multidisciplinary and international nature of the project, different academic disciplines in various countries will benefit from the outcomes. For academic communities (in geography, demography, economics, political science and other disciplines) that are interested in the impact of migration and its counter flow on development, our study will enrich the understanding of the role of return migrants in rural development in developing countries and how institutions and policies affect such processes. Also academics working in a wide range of disciplines with an interest in the migration/return decision making process, entrepreneurial activities, (measuring) rural deprivation, spatial scale, and research methods will benefit from the proposed research. The results will be published in both English and Chinese academic journals

Central and local governments in China and Vietnam

Policy makers from central government departments and think tanks such as the Department of Agricultural, Department of Development and Reform, and the Development Research Centre of the State Council along with local officials on how to better incorporate return migrants into their strategic plans to stimulate rural industrialization and small town led urbanization. State and local governments in Vietnam will also benefit from this research on how to effectively use institutions and policies to attract successful migrants back to their hometowns and foster returnees' entrepreneurial activities and ultimately help reduce rural poverty. We will work closely with government officials and policy makers from both countries from the early stage of the project.

Local rural residents in survey counties

Rural residents in the survey counties will benefit from better implemented policies and programmes informed by project results to effectively utilize return migration for rural development and poverty reduction. Various activities and strategies will be employed to increase the likelihood of impacts: key government officials, policy makers, agencies, organizations from China and Vietnam will be identified and contacted from an early stage of the project to ensure their close involvement with the project. A two day workshop will be organized in Beijing for stakeholders in the middle of the project. Delegates from Vietnam will be invited. A two day workshop will be held at an exemplary county targeting at local officials from surveyed counties in China later in the project. Local officials from Vietnam will be invited. A two day workshop will be held in Vietnam to disseminate final results to Vietnamese stakeholders towards the end of the project. A website will be online after 3 months from the inception of the project and after completion of the project as a showcase for the project progress and main results of use to the wider audience. Main results will also be published online in Chinese and Vietnamese. A pairing scheme will be launched for knowledge transfer on return migration and development at local level If the project is successful further funding will be sought from professional institutions to expand the pairing scheme and its long term development.

Conference and journal papers publication

Reports at different stages of project will be produced and publicised in three languages

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Geographical Sciences
Fund Start Date: 
April 30th, 2014
Fund End Date: 
September 30th, 2017
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: