As the Chinese economy reforms, a huge new population of rural-urban migrants is transforming the urban labor force. This article explores some of the most important reasons for the emergence of the floating population in China. We argue that the neoclassical model alone is not adequate to explain the massive rural-urban internal migration underway in China. Instead, ideas drawn from both sociological theories of segmented markets and institutional economics are used to supplement the standard neoclassical explanation. We found that Chinese policy reforms in both rural and urban areas decreased the balkanization of labor markets and opened up employment opportunities for many rural-urban migrants. In rural areas, a set of agricultural market reforms, starting in 1978, increased farm incomes and simultaneously produced a large surplus labor supply. In urban areas, reforms beginning in the 1980s created an effective demand for rural migrants. Of particular importance was the development of a contract labor system and the emergence of a private sector.



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