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DFG-project: “Informal Migrant Communities and Health Strategies in Urban Villages of the Pearl River Delta, China" (2007-2009)

Project heads:

  • Prof. Dr. Bettina Gransow (Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Prof. Dr. Frauke Kraas (Universität zu Köln)
  • Prof. Dr. Xue Desheng (San Yat-sen University Guangzhou)
  • Prof. Dr. Zhou Daming (San Yat-sen University Guangzhou)

Contact person:

  • Tabea Bork-Hüffer (Universität zu Köln) 


Keywords: Geography of health, urban health, migration, global change, governance, informal migrant settlements

Subjects: Geography, Sinology, Urban Planning, Anthropology 


Closely bonded to the frame of the Priority Programme 1233 of the German Research Foundation, the project focuses on the interrelation between the dynamic flows of informal migration and migrants’ health strategies. Thereby, underlying and influential formal and informal institutional and social structures are identified and their impact evaluated.The project is located at the Institute of East Asian Studies of the Free University of Berlin and the Department of Geography of the University of Cologne. Research is conducted in close collaboration with geographers and anthropologists of the Sun-Yat-sen University of Guangzhou.

“Waves of rural labour” and the emergence of urban villages:
The Pearl River Delta (PRD) is one of the major urbanising corridors in China, where the development is considerably influenced by external forces and the influx of foreign direct investments. Following the high demand in work force, mingong chao, i.e. “waves of rural labour”, have floated into the PRD cities. The census of 2000 counted 40 million inhabitants, out of which 10 to 20 million people are rural-urban migrants – according to different official estimates.

Due to a lack of housing provision many migrants in China find shelter in the so-called chengzhongcun meaning “village-in-the-city”, which are former rural communities that have been surrounded by urban land use due to massive urban sprawl. They are characterised by high-density residential agglomeration, lack of infrastructure, improvable urban planning and limited state influence.

Informality and health in Chinese megacities:
Informal processes and structures play a growing role in megacities in general and in particular in China. Dimensions of informality range from informal migration into Chinese cities to the emergence of an informal sector and, eventually – with regard to the field of health – to a growing proportion of informal or illegal health providers and possibly the development of informal support or health networks of migrants. Access to health services is becoming a major challenge especially for the socio-economically and legally underprivileged and excluded group of migrants. 

Objectives of the research project

The objectives are

  • to explain the impact of global change on mega-urban migration flows and health issues;
  • to understand the different individual and group-specific health strategies of different migrant groups in urban villages under new local and global influences;
  • to explain the role of different stakeholders in shaping policies and providing infrastructure and services for socio-economic and health issues for different groups of migrants, including their different perceptions and attitudes, and
  • to understand the informal socio-economic and health networks of the migrants and to identify health-relevant pathways linking urban migrants to their original communities.


Bork, T./ Kraas, F., Xue, D. & Z. Li (accepted for publication): Challenges for Urban Environmental Health in China’s Villages-in-the-city. In: Geographische Zeitschrift.

Bork, T./ Kraas, F. & Y. Yuan (2011): Governance Challenges in China’s Urban Health Care System – The Role of Stakeholders. In: Erdkunde 65 (2), pp. 121-135.

Bork, T./ Gransow, B./ Kraas, F. & Y. Yuan (2011): Marketization and Informalization of Health Care Services in Mega-urban China. In: Krämer, A./ Khan, M.M.H. & F. Kraas (eds): Health in Megacities and Urban Areas. (Springer) Heidelberg, Dordrecht, London, New York, pp. 173-188.

Braun, A.J. (2011): Das Ende der billigen Arbeit in China: Arbeitsrechte, Sozialschutz und Unternehmensförderung für informell Beschäftigte. (VS Verlag) Wiesbaden.

Gransow, B. (2011): "Slum Formation or Urban Innovation? Migrant Communities and Social Change in Chinese Megacities". In: Bade, K.J., Lorentz, B., Pries, L. (eds.): Migration and Integration – Reflections on Our Common Future. (Europäische Verlagsanstalt) Leipzig, pp. 65-97.

Bork, T./ Kraas, F. & Y. Yuan (2010): Migrant's Health, Health facilities and Services in Villages-in-the-city in Guangzhou, China. In: Gransow, B. & Zhou, D. (eds): Berliner Chinahefte 38. (LIT Verlag) Berlin, Münster, Wien, Zürich, London, pp. 72-93.

Butsch, C./ Kroll, M. & T. Bork (2010): The Megaurban Health Challenge – Examples from India and China. In: Geographische Rundschau International 6 (2/2010).

Gransow, B. (2010): "Migration und Megastädte in China", in FUndiert. Wissenschaftsmagazin der FU Berlin 2/2010, pp.72-75. (

Schnack, H.-C. (2010): Schulbildung für Migrantenkinder in der VR China - Zwischen staatlicher Ausgrenzung und privaten Alternativen. Berliner China-Studien 49. (LIT-Verlag) Münster.

Bork, T./ Butsch, C./ Kraas, F. & M. Kroll (2009): Megastädte: Neue Risiken für die Gesundheit [Megacities: New Risks for Human Health]. In: Deutsches Ärzteblatt 106 (39), S. 1877-1881.

Bork, T./ Kilian, P. & H. Sterly (2009): Informalität in Megastädten. Das Beispiel der megaurbanen Region Perlflussdelta, China [Informality in Megacities. Examples from the Megaurban Region Pearl River Delta, China]. In: Praxis Geographie 39 (7-8), S. 28-32.

Beisswenger, S./ Bork, T. & P. Kilian (2008): Perlflussdelta: Vom Dreistromland zur megaurbanen Region. Wanderungsbewegungen und Stadtentwicklungen im Süden Chinas [Migration and Urban Development in the Pearl River Delta, China]. Scinexx vom 29. Februar, 2008. Abrufbar unter:

Bork, T./ Gransow, B. & F. Kraas (2007): Informal Migrant Communities and Health Strategies in Urban Villages of Pearl River Delta, China. Poster presented at the German Geographical Congress in Bayreuth, September 2007.

Gransow, B. (2008): Zwischen Informalisierung und Formalisierung - Migration, Stadtentwicklung und Transformation im Perlflussdelta. In: China Aktuell 37 (1), pp. 67-99.

Gransow, B. (2007): „Dörfer in Städten“ - Typen chinesischer Marginalsiedlungen am Beispiel Beijing und Guangzhou. In: Bronger, D. (ed(s).): Marginalsiedlungen in Megastädten Asiens. (Lit. Verlag) Münster, pp. 343-377.