Illustration 4: Migration within China

Curriculum overview

The Australian Curriculum: Geography and (its various HASS-based iterations) content description addressed in the illustration is:

  • The reasons for and effects of internal migration in China

Learning goals

Students explore issues associated with internal migration within China. They consider the disparity between rural and urban living standards as a driver for one of the largest population movements in recent world history. Students also explore the issues associated with the location of minorities in China and in particular the government sponsored Han migration into Xinjiang Province.

The Illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • identifying and observing some of the key factors behind contemporary migration in China
  • investigating the pattern of internal migration in China
  • understanding the social effects of migration and the impact of ethnic conflict  
  • exploring the points of friction between migrants and indigenous populations in China.

Geographical understanding and context

The dynamic nature of the modern Chinese economy has resulted in impressive advances in living standards. However, they are not uniformly spread across China, with significant disparity between provinces and between urban and rural areas. China has many of the world's largest urban areas and just over half (51%) of its massive population now live in urban areas - an increase from 26% in 1990. There has been a massive internal movement to the cities. 

While there are strong personal and economic goals associated with decisions to migrate within China, there are also very specific political goals. For the Chinese government, controlling migration is an economic, social and political necessity. Han migration to Xinjiang province is encouraged through government policy to unify the nation, create a more homogenous national culture and offset Uyghur separatist demands. In the same region, Kazakh nomads have been faced with increasing pressure to cease their annual migration to produce a more stable society.

The focus of this illustration is an examination of the personal and political decisions which drive migration within China. The nature of the rural-urban divide is explored as a driver for internal migration.

Teaching approaches

  • Introducing the themes

Start this activity by asking your students to read Internal migration within China (PDF). It introduces students to the major themes. The text can be discussed and edited.

  • Exploring aspects of China

Ask your students to study the images featured in Rural-urban divide in China (PDF). These images provide the basis for classroom or small-group discussion. Students can explore the images and consider how their life would be different if they lived in rural or urban China. Exploration is aided by an activity suggestion.

  • Considering internal migration

Having established empathy, students should consider the drivers of internal migration. Discuss the pros and cons of migration, and the different opportunities which come from each decision. Discuss the notion of being hukou or illegal 'floating' migrants. 
Students could express their feelings in a letter to a father who is a hukou worker in a distant city. They could outline reasons why they wish to move from the country but are realistic about the chances of being legal migrants.

  • Exploring the map of China

Using an atlas (printed or via the Internet), ask students to study a map of China. They could look for Xinjiang, and see how it shares a border with numerous nations and is delineated by mountains and deserts. Students could discuss how this could be seen as a security problem for the central government. 

  • Exploring cultural differences

Students are then asked to study the images contained in Xinjiang (PDF) to explore differences in culture and how migration is being used as a tool for social change.

Ask your students to complete the questions provided to explore issues of integration and economic pressure associated with migration.

  • Considering impacts on nomadic cultures

The final consideration is that of the nomadic Kazakh people who are being forced to stop the migration pattern they have retained for centuries. There are obvious parallels with recent Australian history which can be sensitively explored.

Ask students to undertake research and compare the White Australia policy to current Han migration in Xinjiang. Past Australian attitudes towards Indigenous cultures can be explored in contrast to the Chinese efforts to settle the Kazakh nomads.

What you need

Internal migration within China (PDF) - introductory document.
Rural-urban divide in China (PDF) - images and activities.
Xinjiang (PDF) - images and questions.

Curriculum connections

This illustration links with the content descriptions of the following Phase 1 Australian Curriculum.


  • Create imaginative, informative and persuasive texts that raise issues, report events and advance opinions, using deliberate language and textual choices, and including digital elements as appropriate


  • Construct and use a range of representations, including graphs, keys and models to represent and analyse patterns or relationships, including using digital technologies as appropriate