In anticipation of the forthcoming release of the 2010 national population census of China, this paper compares the limited population data that have been released so far with annual data on natural population increase since the 2000 census in order to construct a rough but robust measure of net migration for each province in China between these two censuses. The results emphasize the extent of net out-migration from much of interior and western China as well as the degree to which rapid population growth in five coastal growth poles has been due to net in-migration. In total, 15 out of 31 provinces experienced net population outflows between the two censuses according to this measure, versus only six that experienced negative population growth, leaving nine provinces that registered positive population growth at the same time as net out-migration. Three exceptions to the western pattern of net outflows were the Tibet Autonomous Region, Xinjiang and Ningxia, which had the highest average natural population increase rates in China and also continued to experience moderate net in-migration. Overall, the sheer extent and speed of these flows, which have been mostly contained within national borders, sheds light on the enormity of the developmental challenges facing the government in this context, as well as the demographic pressures placed on the coastal growth poles absorbing most of the net flows. Moreover, there appears to be little association between rates of net migration and provincial rates of economic growth or even provincial levels of per capita GDP during this period, except in the broadest interregional sense that the three coastal province-level entities exhibiting the strongest rates of net in-migration – Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin – were by far the most affluent in China.

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Erasmus University Rotterdam
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Fischer, A. M. (2012). Provincial migration in China : Preliminary insights from the 2010 population census (No. 541). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 541, pp. 1–19). Retrieved from