Giving migrants a break
Shanghai faces unprecedented pressure from its fast-growing population as people move in from other parts of China.
The population of permanent residents in Shanghai rose from 13 million in 1990 to 17 million in 2001 to nearly 25 million today.
More than 10 million of the population hails from outside Shanghai. A pressing challenge for good governance in Shanghai is to coordinate population growth with the city’s development.
The tension between the population and the city, which is heightened by limited resources and space, is not necessarily caused by the fast growth in population but by weakness in population management and public services.
A well-designed and managed traffic system can hold many more automobiles than a poorly managed one. Despite Shanghai’s overpopulation, there are many showcase huge town squares that are not practical for residents to use.
On one hand, many expensive houses built for the rich are left empty for years.
On the other hand, many Shanghai families of three generations live under the same roof in slum areas downtown, without access to flush toilets.
According to Ren Yuan, a professor of population studies at Fudan University, migrant populations do not necessarily cause more crime. In Shanghai, factors such as the lack of education, unemployment, unhappy marriages and insufficient police and security forces are the main causes of rising crime.
Hence, it is unreasonable to cut crime through controlling the migrant population and blaming them for crime.
Shanghai’s government should pay more attention to equalizing educational and employment opportunities, improving the community environment and strengthening public security administration. Providing better services for the people can, to some extent, effectively ease population pressure. Education and medical care are critical for people to find jobs and live a stable life.
If the government resorts to tight controls on the migrant population, as the Beijing government does with a number of discriminative policies in transportation, housing, education and medical care, the city will face even more serious problems and frictions among different social groups.
Fairness and justice attract people to cities. Cities cannot development without the two principles and a set of good governance measures to translate them into benefits for all members.
The government must abide the law while dealing with issues related to migrant population, who mostly take on undesirable jobs in cities. A city cannot survive without their labor.
They deserve fair treatment from the administrative authorities and overdue channels through which to sue over malpractice of the government and officials. The migrant population’s property rights and legal interests must be protected. The government has no legal base to take social stability as an excuse to infringe upon the migrant population’s legal rights.
In 2011, Shenzhen — China’s first economic special zone — drove away tens of thousands of migrants before hosting the World University Games. It is ironic that a city that rose from the labors and wisdom of migrant populations in the 1980s and 1990s — turning quickly from a fishing village to the second-largest economy in Guangdong — would take such action.
Shanghai’s local culture has a deep, historical discrimination against people from other parts of China and a blind worship for foreigners. Last month, a famous Shanghai sports anchor, in a live broadcast, openly cursed the visiting football team from northern part of Jiangsu province in China’s Super League match. The northern part is much poorer than Shanghai and the south Jiangsu.
Although the Shanghai government is already a model in many aspects of governance in China, it still needs to raise the legal consciousness in governing and serving the migrant population.
The government needs to do more to protect the migrant population’s legal interests. This is a modern government’s legally binding duty rather than a favor for disadvantaged groups of people.