Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2022, Vol. 77 ›› Issue (12): 2991-3005.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202212004

• Population Geography • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The validity and international comparability of China's concepts and data on the floating population

ZHU Yu1,3(), LIN Liyue2,3,4(), LI Tingting4, DONG Yajing4   

  1. 1. Asian Demographic Research Institute, Shanghai University, Shanghai 200444, China
    2. Institute of Geography, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350007, China
    3. Center for Population and Development Research, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350007, China
    4. School of Geography, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350007, Chin
  • Received:2022-04-22 Revised:2022-11-10 Online:2022-12-25 Published:2022-12-29
  • Contact: LIN Liyue;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(41971180);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41971168);Natural Science Foundation of Fujian Province(2021J01145)


The two concepts of "liu dong ren kou (the floating population)" and "ren kou liu dong (the mobility of the floating population)", and relevant data based on these two concepts, have long been used extensively in China's relevant research and policy making, playing a dominant role in the fields. Different from the concepts of "migrant" and "migration" in the international literature, which are focused on people's spatial mobility, "liu dong ren kou" and "ren kou liu dong" are identified and measured by the separation of one's place of household registration (hukou) from the place of residence, and inconsistent with relevant international practices. By analysing various census data and data from China Migrant Dynamic Survey (CMDS), this article examines the validity and reliability of these two concepts and data based on them in the international context, and reveals that they have become increasingly invalid and not reliable in measuring migration events since the reform and opening up. The results further demonstrate that these two concepts and the data based on them have been increasingly detached from the real migration events and processes; they may become invalid because of overestimating the volume of the mobile population, or ineffective due to systematic omitting of certain group of the mobile population (such as urban-urban migrants), and can even seriously mislead people's judgment on the changing direction of migration flows. In addition, data on the floating population cannot be used to calculate migration rate and are not comparable in the international context. Based on the above analysis, the article argues that while the concepts of "liu dong ren kou" and "ren kou liu dong" and relevant data based on these two concepts still need to be used for a long period of time due to the continuing existence of the hukou system and its roles in the provision of public services, social welfare and social security, relevant concepts, measurements and ways of data collection in China's migration research should be gradually shifted to and focused on the nature of migration as spatial events; transition data based on the usual residence five years and one year ago should be gradually used as the main data sources and included in the short form of future censuses, and migration event data based on population registration and administrative records should be more fully used, so that China's migration research can be conducted on the solid basis of valid and reliable data sources.

Key words: floating population, separation of places of residence and hukou registration, migration data, validity, international comparability