How Far Are the Left-Behind Left Behind? A Preliminary Study in Rural China Biao Xiang



While the linkage between migration and development has attracted much academic and policy attention, a key aspect to the linkage, namely those left behind in the community of origin, remains almost untouched. As one of the first academic attempts to provide a systematic overview of this group in China, this paper describes the basic problems faced by them, discusses the institutional causes of the problems, and explores long-term and short-term solutions. The paper first establishes the fact that, although it seems to be a decision made by individuals who migrates and who does not, there are also fundamental institutional factors. The paper then shows that the three main left-behind groups, namely wives, the elderly and children, encounter various problems, but in general their situation is not much worse than those accompanied by family members. Their problems cannot to be attributed to being left behind, instead the fundamental cause is that many rural communities as a whole have been left behind economically and socially. Although migration exacerbates the hardship, stopping migration is certainly not a solution. The paper instead calls for measures to redress the urban-rural divide and to improve public goods provision in rural communities.


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