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China’s Internal Migrants: Processes of Categorisation and Analytical Issues

Cinzia Losavio
Translated by Peter Brown
p. 49-60


This article reveals the malleability of the boundaries between political and analytical categories related to internal migration in China. The author analyses the iterative process of categorisation, which, far from being neutral, settled, and objective, comes within government intervention strategies. Statistical categories, media practices, and the scientific understanding of migration by social sciences all dovetail with each other, showing themselves to be subject to evolving political, economic, and urban landscapes. This paper shows that the categories of spatial mobility do not correspond to those of urban integration, with implications that are not only of an administrative, material, and spatial nature but also concern identity issues.

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Editor's notes

Manuscript submitted on 9 February 2019. Accepted on 30 June 2020.


Full text document will be published online on June 2022.


The emergence of a grammar of migrant categories within the PRC
Overlapping statistical categories of spatial mobility
Political and media categories: Uses “from above” and stratification issues
The migrant categories of social housing in the era of the new urbanisation plan
Conclusion: The “transnational” logics of categorisation

First lines


Within the field of migration research, studies on international migrants (particularly South-North migration) hold a dominant position today, despite the fact that migrations within national borders are quantitatively more significant than the flows of people from one country to another (King and Skeldon 2010; Wihtol de Wenden 2012; Skeldon 2017). China has been one of the most significant examples of this internal mobility ever since the start of the economic reform process (1978). The transition from a planned economy to a market economy paved the way for unprecedented spatial mobility, with the rate of urbanisation going from 18.5% in 1980 to 59.58% by the end of 2018 (NBSC 2019). However, in China as elsewhere, the limited number of studies reflecting on the processes of the categorisation and stratification of internal migrants feeds the misconception that individuals who migrate within their home province or to the major cities of another province constitute a hom...

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Bibliographical reference

Cinzia Losavio, « China’s Internal Migrants: Processes of Categorisation and Analytical Issues », China Perspectives, 2021/2 | 2021, 49-60.

Electronic reference

Cinzia Losavio, « China’s Internal Migrants: Processes of Categorisation and Analytical Issues », China Perspectives [Online], 2021/2 | 2021, Online since 01 June 2022, connection on 23 September 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Cinzia Losavio

Cinzia Losavio is a contractual Phd candidate (LabEx Dynamite) at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, affiliated to the UMR 8504 Géographie-cités (CRIA), Campus Condorcet, Research Building South (Bâtiment de recherche Sud), Level 2, Room 2.115, 5, Cours des Humanités, 93322 Aubervilliers Cedex, France (

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