> topics > Sociology

Survey studies social identity in Urumqi migrant ethnic groups

ZHANG YI | 2018-10-25 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Children of different ethnic groups have class together at Urumqi No. 15 Middle School in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Photo: CHINA DAILY


A migrant population supports the economic development of a city. However, they could also cause conflicts or even crime due to cultural differences and the exclusion and isolation that they face in their new environment. Therefore, strengthening the social identity and social integration of migrant populations is vital to national unity and social stability in multi-ethnic populated regions.

In fact, a vast amount of research has been carried out on the social identity of migrant populations, but few studies have examined the differences in social identity among migrant ethnic groups in multi-ethnic cities.

In this light, a field investigation in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, in 2017 is particularly meaningful. Based on studies of the different dimensions of social identity, this survey attempts to compare and analyze ethnic migrant groups’ social identities in four aspects: interpersonal communication, social treatment, urban identity and city life. A total of 340 questionnaires were issued and 322 were returned, with a recovery rate of 94.7 percent, among which 300 questionnaires were valid, marking an effective response rate of 93.2 percent.
This study classifies the migrant populations of Mongolian, Manchu, Tujia and Zhuang ethnicities as 3.9 percent of the total sample. The comparative analysis of ethnic groups focuses on the migrant populations of Han, Uygur, Kazakh and Hui ethnicities, who take up a relatively large proportion.


Interpersonal relationships
Interpersonal communication not only refers to the exchange of information and goods among people, but also includes the relatively stable relationship or connection between people through the process of non-material and material interactions. For migrant populations, social identity is not one-sided, but is reflected in a migrant population’s willingness and attitude toward interactions with local residents.

When asked, “Would you like to socialize with local residents?” some 17 percent of the respondents said they would very much like to do so, 54.3 percent said they would like to, 22.3 percent said they had no opinion and 4.7 percent explicitly refuted the idea. On the whole, the migrant population in Urumqi had a desire to communicate with local residents.
If we break it down, Hui ethnicities expressed the strongest willingness to communicate with local residents, followed by the Han and Uygur ethnicities, whereas the Kazakh ethnic groups tended to be less enthusiastic toward the proposal.

In response to the question about how locals treat them in their interactions, “very friendly” and “good” received 12.7 percent and 52 percent, respectively, while “no opinion” got 31 percent and “cold” and “hostile” got 4 percent and 0.3 percent. It can be seen that more than 60 percent of the migrant population was content with the attitude of local residents.
Further comparison found that as high as 70 percent of the Hui and Han ethnicities chose “very friendly” or “good,” and they had the best emotional experience when interacting with local residents. In contrast, 42 percent and 37 percent of Uygurs and Kazakhs chose “no opinion,” respectively.


Social treatment
For the migrant population, the social differentiation inherent in the dual urban-rural household registration system permeates every aspect of urban life, such as employment, children’s education, medical care and social security, causing a diminished sense of belonging toward urban life.

In the questionnaire, the respondents were asked to subjectively evaluate “whether migrant workers are treated equally compared with local urban residents.” Some 8.7 percent of the migrant population thought their treatment was very equal, 42.7 percent thought it was relatively equal and 34.7 percent had no opinion. Generally speaking, the migrant population was content with the treatment they received in the city.

However, significant differences in perception among the different ethnic migrant populations were uncovered. The Hui ethnic group responded to public policy in Urumqi positively, while Han, Uygur and Kazakh ethnicities were each successively less positive, with the evaluation of public policy gradually reducing from “relatively equal” to “hard to tell.”

In terms of how various nationalities view this kind of inequality and differentiated treatment, 60.5 percent of the Hui migrant population were satisfied with public policy and social treatment and found it “acceptable,” while 47 percent, 43.5 percent and 25.9 percent of the Han, Uygur and Kazakh migrant population reported the same reaction.

At the same time, the proportion of Kazakh, Uygur, Han and Hui migrants who selected “dissatisfied with differentiated treatment in comparison to the locals” were 44.4 percent, 36.2 percent, 26.8 percent and 25.6 percent, respectively. Given this, a positive interpretation of public policy is conducive to easing the negative emotions among the migrant population.
When asked “Where does inequality with locals often reside?” the top choices were “social security” and “children’s education,” which reached 36 percent and 31.1 percent of all migrants, respectively.


Urban identity
Chinese scholars define the identity of the migrant population as their psychological distance from and sense of belonging to their hometown and the other migrants and locals where they live. It’s an inner inquiry of who they are, where they come from and where they will go. It is generally believed that identity research includes identification intention and result, which cannot be mixed together.

When asked about the difference between oneself and the locals, 44 percent of the migrant population said there was indeed a difference, 27 percent said there was no difference, and 29 percent said it was not clear. The results also showed that ethnic factors had a significant impact, with the largest difference being felt by the Hui migrant ethnic population, followed by Uygurs, and the smallest difference felt by the Han and Kazakhs.

As for urban identity, 40.6 percent of the migrant population thought they had not found a proper position in the city yet, 29 percent thought they were still rural residents and 30.4 percent thought they had gained an urban identity. Kazakhs identified themselves as urban residents at the highest rate. Next were Uygurs. Nearly 30 percent of the Han migrants thought of themselves as urban residents. The Hui ethnicity turned out to have the least sense of urban identity.


City life
At the micro level, an urban identity contributes to a larger psychological identity and makes an individual’s experience of city life more pleasant. On a societal level, a stronger urban identity among the migrant population helps accelerate the urbanization process and ensure urban security and social stability.

In this study, the urban identity of the migrant population was measured in two aspects: how respondents felt about Urumqi and what they planned for the future (to leave the city or to stay).

The data shows that 55.6 percent of the migrant population said they liked Urumqi very much or they liked it fairly well, while 40 percent said they had no opinion. The Hui people liked Urumqi the most, followed by the Han and Uygurs, whereas the Kazakhs liked it least. This coincides with their attitude toward public policy and social treatment.


Future plans
Differences in the life plans of the four ethnicities were also evident. Three out of ten Han and Uygur migrants said they would return to work and live in their hometowns in the future, while two out of ten Kazakhs and Hui considered leaving Urumqi. On the whole, more than 60 percent of the migrant population surveyed said they wanted to stay in Urumqi. Among those, respondents showed slight differences in preference for staying in the city to work or to start a business.

The Hui people who intended to stay in Urumqi were the most motivated to start their own businesses, with nearly half of the Hui migrant population stating that starting a business is their ultimate dream in the city, while the Uygurs (26.1 percent), Kazakhs (22.2 percent) and Han (17.4 percent) might also consider it. For the latter three, finding a job remained the priority.
Based on the data analysis of the migrant population samples of Han, Uygur, Kazakh and Hui ethnicities in Urumqi, it can be seen that a majority of the migrant population had adapted to the city’s work and life.

The Hui ethnic migrant population was the most content with their new social identity. They had a positive cognition of social treatment and long-term expectations for future development. As a result, they preferred to have interpersonal interactions with colleagues and locals, instead of being confined by lineage and geography and interacting only with family members or fellow villagers.

The Han people showed little difference from the Hui ethnicity in terms of interpersonal communication, identity orientation and urban identity, but they did feel more treatment differentiated from that of locals. Uygurs and Kazakhs were more likely to keep to themselves, with the latter most sensitive to the difference in treatment.

Based on the four-dimensional analysis in this paper, the migrant populations encountered different problems in social identity, calling for different solutions. Therefore, in the process of urban development, Urumqi should adopt a more open and inclusive attitude to ease the identification bias and promote the social identity of all ethnic migrant populations.


Zhang Yi is from the School of Ethnology and Sociology at the South-Central University for Nationalities.

(edited by YANG XUE)