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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

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Human Geography


Migration has asserted great influence on urban spatial structure, especially during China’s recent waves of rural-to-urban migration. This dissertation focuses on Wenzhou, a third-tier Chinese city that served as a national model for the re-introduction of small-scale private enterprise in the 1990s. Wenzhou’s economic success generated migration that has served as a catalyst for new forms of urbanization in which migrants play a central role. I aim to examine and understand the distribution patterns of migrant settlements, their changes over time and the ways that the formation of these settlements has impacted emerging urban form. There are two primary components in this study: a broad-scale comparative study of the formation and location of migrant settlements based on census data and existing studies of Beijing and Guangzhou, and a fine-scale, survey- and interview-based analysis of a case-study migrant settlement.

Using data drawn from the 2000 and 2010 population censuses, the city-scale analysis finds that Wenzhou’s migrant settlements, which are dominated by manufacturing workers, are spatially linked to patterns of industrial development. Thus the city’s industrial development strategies have had a direct influence on the location, formation, and characteristics of migrant settlements. This is a direct contrast to the spatial formation of migrant settlements in Beijing and Guangzhou, where factors such as the location of village-held land and place-of-origin linked migrant settlements have been more important. Further analysis uses the classic “concentric zone model” as a baseline for understanding the differing dynamics of migrant settlements in contemporary Chinese cities.

Drawing from a survey of 435 migrants and 20 in-depth interviews in Shuangyu, Wenzhou, this dissertation further reveals the residential and activity space in migrant settlements, the daily life of migrants and how they connect with the other parts of the city. The findings address the social and spatial isolation of migrant settlements from the other parts of the city, contributing to the formation of “city within a city”. This new kind of urban space constitutes a significant new “assemblage” in Wenzhou’s evolving urban form, and challenges the generalizations often made on the basis of the experience of migration in Beijing and Guangzhou.