27 October 2017

Visualizing internal migration in China

Options Winter 2017/18: Roughly 250 million migrant workers in China have fled the rural areas they had grown up in to the coastal regions and megacities that hold economic promise.

Bilateral migration flows during 2010-2015 in China (unit: million). © BY-NC 3.0 SAGE Publication

Bilateral migration flows during 2010-2015 in China (unit: million). © BY-NC 3.0 SAGE Publication

Since the late 1970s, when it initiated economic reforms and began opening up the country, China has experienced rapid urbanization. This led directly to a significant redistribution of the country’s population from rural areas to urban centers.

Because of a number of factors, including persistent inequalities in wages between regions, job opportunities from new growth sectors, and social services, roughly 250 million migrant workers fled the rural areas they had grown up in to the coastal regions and megacities that held economic promise. Another 100 million rural citizens are expected to migrate to cities over the next decade.

In a study published in the journal Environment and Planning A, IIASA researcher Raya Muttarak and her coauthors analyzed the direction and volume of migration flows among the 31 different provinces in China, and produced a ‘chord diagram plot’ to visualize the internal migration flows within the country.

The diagram incorporates a spatial component, depicting the four major regions of China (East, Center, West, Northeast) through four different color palettes. The diagram also shows both the origin and destination of migrants, which should help those less familiar with this phenomenon understand the specifics around one of the largest migration systems on the planet.

"China’s massive internal migration flows are having a considerable impact on the country’s population centers,” explained Muttarak. “By visualizing these migration flows, we begin to get a better sense of where people are relocating and pinpoint some of the reasons behind their migration.”

Text by Jeremy Summers

Further information

Qi W, Abel GJ, Muttarak R, & Liu S (2017). Circular visualization of China’s internal migration flows 2010–2015. Environment and Planning A: 1-4. [pure.iiasa.ac.at/14736]


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Last edited: 14 November 2017

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