Smooth or troubled occupation transition? Urbanization and employment of former peasants in Western China

Jing SONG*, Huimin DU, Si Ming LI

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Given recent urbanization and land development projects in western China, this study examines how rural villages became part of the expanding municipality of Yinchuan, Ningxia, by focusing on former peasants’ occupation transition-their transition into urban employment. Based on the survey and interview data in the outskirts of Yinchuan in 2014 and 2015, the study finds an increase in unemployment rates and the changing distribution of job categories. Quantitative findings highlight the importance of age, gender, and education after land expropriation when agriculture ceases to function as a “safety net,” and illustrate the significant effect of pre-expropriation employment but not compensation from land development per se. Such findings are explained and enriched by analyses of in-depth interviews, that most available jobs for older and less educated peasants are unstable and low-end work in construction and service sectors created by urbanization. There are also limited chances to establish and develop one’s career, either for those who had prior market experiences and financial capabilities to start private businesses, or for those received heavy education investment from their families in a hope of obtaining clerical or professional jobs. Men are more active in pursuing private businesses and formal white-collar jobs by pooling together the family resources, and women are underrepresented in both sectors. Speaking to the debates on the labor market outcomes for former peasants in urbanization, this study illustrates the emerging opportunities of entrepreneurship and economic mobility and the prevalent segregation and discrimination in labor markets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-105
Number of pages27
JournalChina Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This study was supported by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (General Research Fund, HKBU12406714), the Research Committee of Hong Kong Baptist University, and the Improvement on Competitiveness in Hiring New Faculties Funding Scheme and the Research Committee of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.


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