The Social and Physical Effects of Socialist Regime on China

The past few classes, we have discussed how the socialist regime dictated how cities are developed in eastern European countries, and how they have changed in post-socialist times. It was interesting to me that influences of economics and politics have a profound affect on cities. In another class that I am in, I am researching on the Peoples Republic of China and its societal and urban restraints of the Hukou System. The Hukou System is a household registration system that dictates largely where and how people live between rural and urban areas within China. Broadly, the system was designed to not only provide population statistics and identify personal status but to also regulate population distribution. A rural migrant seeking work in an urban area would lose access to services such as health care, employer –provided housing and would not qualify for grain rations (Pines, 344). The Hukou system can be traced back to 1317 (Young, 30), but the modern origins began in the 1950s when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began to follow a Soviet-style development that promoted heavy industrialization. Urban planning during 1950-1960 in communist China was focused on selecting locations for factories and industrial plants, service facilities as well as design the layout of industrial towns and residential districts. (Tang, 347). Similar to communist Russia, China’s plans included formulistic street patterns, grand building designs and monuments, and large public squares as a way to demonstrate the power of the communist era (Tang, 350). During the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, the planning of the socialist city under the People’s Republic of China placed peoples livelihoods second to the socialist principles, resulting in large-scale urban development and little progress of residential facilities and amenities. The Great Leap Forward demanded a large amount of labour and so a great internal migration between rural to urban areas occurred. To fund the rapid industrialization that the PRC sought, the PRC turned to the countryside to extract its agricultural resources. Rural workers moved to the cities to seek work due to a rising famine after the extraction, placing a strain on the infrastructure of the cities. As a result, rural workers lost their social welfare benefits as dictated by the Hukou system. A social order also emerged due to the Hukou system as urban governments looked after urban residents while rural citizens would essentially be left to fend for themselves (Wallace, 81). Socialist policies greatly affected not only China’s urban development, but also rural development as well. Although the PRC sought to match western industrialization growth, the divide between rural and urban citizens grew quite large which affected the country not only socially, but economically.

This is a quick summary of the PRC and the Hukou system, but it is apparent that the socialist ideology has affected many areas, resulting in not only a physical change in China’s city, but a social change as well.


Pines, David. Topics in Public Economics: Theoretical and Applied Analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.


Tang, W.-S. “Chinese Urban Planning at Fifty: An Assessment of the Planning Theory Literature.” Journal of Planning Literature 14.3 (2000): 347-66. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.


Wallace, Jeremy L. “China’s Loophole to the Faustian Bargain of Urban Bias.” Cities and Stability: Urbanization, Redistribution, & Regime Survival in China. Oxford UP, 2014. 73-80. Print.


Young, Jason. China’s Hukou System Markets, Migrants and Institutional Change. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.


2 thoughts on “The Social and Physical Effects of Socialist Regime on China

  1. Would you say that this system creates a sort of caste system in China (i.e. between rural and urban inhabitants)?
    Was it initially supposed to be more like the censuses we used to have to fill out here and then turned into something that created social divisions?

    Interesting post!

  2. How successfully did the Chinese implement the policies used by the Soviets during that time? Could they have also used some of the Western rural/urban policies to develop their own strategies?

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