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‘Family’ culture shows impact on urbanization

Author  :  RUAN YILEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2022-05-27

The large-scale “mobile population” is an important feature of China’s urbanization. In China, the most prominent feature of population mobility is its flow, back and forth. Among this group of people, the profound influence of family and culture on the mobile population deserves further study.

At the fourth Liberal Arts Innovation Forum recently held at Peking University, scholars discussed the role of family, collectives, and the state in the changes of urban-rural relations from a sociological perspective, exploring a Chinese path of urbanization.

‘Family’ culture and mobile population

Compared with urbanization that has been completed or is underway in many other countries, China’s urbanization is carried out in stages and steps. Zhou Feizhou, a professor from the Department of Sociology at Peking University, said that over the past decade, local governments have issued many policies and made great endeavors in terms of housing price stabilization, household registration reform, medical treatment, education, social security, and urban-rural connection, in order to encourage migrant workers to settle down with household registrations, but the effect of these measures on migration and urbanization is limited. There is still a big gap in urban-rural integration, or urban-rural overall development. At present, the mobile population in China is about 370 million. The distance between the actual and envisaged population urbanization prompts us to re-examine factors that affect population mobility. Without considering the role of family and culture, it is hard to see the Chinese characteristics reflected in population mobility in the process of urbanization. Rural migrant workers cannot be viewed simply as “actors with interests” like enterprises and capital, but from the perspective of “people.” The willingness of rural migrant workers to move is not personal but familial, which makes China’s urbanization process over the past decades disparate from conventional urbanization processes in the world.

“Family” occupies a very special position in Chinese culture and Chinese people’s minds, which can empower people with a hard-working and unyielding spirit, and enable basic social stability. “Family” is closely connected with the nation. Liu Shouying, dean of the School of Economics at Renmin University of China, believes that Chinese culture is a culture with “roots,” also with “family” culture. In the process of urbanization, “family” wields the family life cycle to realize the redistribution and re-division of populations between urban and rural areas, forming different configurations and distributions. This kind of “family” system and “family” culture makes China’s path of urbanization different from other countries. It is necessary to further discuss the institutional framework supporting family culture and explain how China’s land system and village system cooperate with its urban system.

What is a “hometown,” or “home village”? According to Qu Jingdong, a professor from the Department of Sociology at Peking University, homestead sites and farmland in the countryside form very important pillars of “home village.” China has a gigantic mobile population, but it has not caused family separation and social disorder in an absolute sense. On the contrary, “families” are like guerrilla forces, constantly grouping. This continuous “flow” expands the spatial and temporal scope of “home village.” Although the temporal fluidity of “family” is enhanced with changed combination modes, the meaning of “home village” is still maintained.

Local ethics

Chinese villages have a strong local flavor, and each village has formed a collective consciousness and collective spirit centered on blood relationship, clan, and region. The zones, groups, lifestyles, and values between urban and rural areas are of special significance. Transcending the confrontation between urban and rural areas, exploring “urbanity” with Chinese characteristics, and realizing the creative transformation and innovative development of “local ethics” in cities, is of far-reaching significance for rural vitalization.

The mobile population is depositing and refluxing in the hierarchical diversion, and their local ethics are carried out and innovated in cities. In addition to necessary cultural consciousness, efforts are needed to make farmers real beneficiaries in the process of national industrialization and urbanization, Zhou added.

Liu suggested re-interpreting the importance of some basic institutions in the countryside in the process of urban and rural transformation. The economic, social, and political structure of the countryside itself may be the larger system supporting the entire urban-rural transformation, which is composed of people, land, villages, and industry supporting the entire modernization system. China’s long-term local culture has formed farmers’ “genetic” attachment to “land,” including the collective land ownership system with “family” as the safeguard unit, and an urban-rural shift centered on “family.” Urban-rural integration makes urban and rural civilizations share, coexist, and mutually dependent. Affected by urban-rural integration, rural economic activities become more complicated and diversified. The diversification of people makes people in rural areas begin to reconstruct, and the resulting conceptual changes will drive the reconstruction of various elements in rural areas.

Qu said that in the context of rapid social change, we need to fully realize that the dilemma of urban and rural construction or difficulties in community construction are not only matters of material form, but also an issue of civilization ontology related to the survival of cultural subjectivity.

Zhang Yongle, director of the Office of Humanities and Social Sciences at Peking University, suggested outlining the “life cycle” of rural migrant workers’ families, based on abundant empirical research on the phenomenon of mobile populations totaling about the 370 million in China. Moreover, from the perspective of Chinese civilization, efforts focus on exploring contemporary China’s urban-rural relations and family-state relations, and expand to the historical evolution of the concept and related system of “family” and “home village.”

Editor: Yu Hui

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