China: The Largest Migration in Human History

Geography Professor Kam Wing Chan’s work on internal Chinese migration is prominently cited in this week’s Economist article, “The Impact of Chinese Migrati0n: We Like to Move It Move It”.

IF YOU purchased one of the 1.8 billion mobile phones shipped around the world last year, there is a 50% chance it was put together in the Chinese province of Guangdong. There is also a good chance it was not assembled by a native Guangdonger, but by one of the millions of migrants who have left their homes and travelled to the coast to find work. Grinding poverty has long been a cause of migration and was the impetus again after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. The story of migration since then is the story of modern China, as migrant workers have transformed China’s economy.

Kam Wing Chan of the University of Washington has compiled statistics which show that from 1990 to 2005—the most recent period for which reliable statistics are available—there was an overall gross migration across provinces of about 80m migrants (see map). An increasing number also migrate within their own province. All told, some 230m Chinese spend most of the year away from their home town or village. This is almost a third of all people globally estimated by the UN to be migrating within the borders of their own country. Most migrants move in search of work. The number of rural Chinese working away from home is now almost 160m, or 12% of the country’s population. The Chinese government’s population-planning commission forecasts another 100m rural residents could move to cities by 2020. As migration patterns change, though (see article), expect to see rapid social and economic change across inland China

The article also features an animated “videographic” illustrating migration flows.

In addition to Chan’s migration work, his work on the effects of this migration on Chinese economic development has also recently been featured in The Atlantic (Why China’s Migration Isn’t Creating A Middle Class”), and the UW  News & Information website UW Today (“China’s Urbanization Unlikely to Lead to Fast growth of Middle Class”).

How the ‘Battle in Seattle’ led to a Global Health Mecca

The Washington Global Health Alliance and the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development has published a new report describing our region’s growing global health industry. Called the 2011 Global Health Strategic Mapping and Economic Opportunity Portfolio, the report identifies local organizations working in global health, the number of jobs, types of projects overseas and business opportunities. Some key findings:

  • Respondent’s organizations have 2,503 projects and initiatives in 156 countries.
  • In Washington, 2,979 people work in global health. Outside of the state, these 59 organizations support an additional 17,275 employees.
  • Washington has particular expertise in infectious & chronic disease and developing technologies & devices.
  • Washington global health organizations surveyed collaborate with 1,574 partners, located in 111 countries across the world.

UW Geography Professor Matt Sparke has received recent press and  blogosphere attention with his essay on how Seattle’s reincarnation as a global health epicenter relates to its previous reputation as a center for the global justice movement after the anti-WTO protests of 1999:

Many people at the time thought the 1999 WTO protests marked a significant turning point, against the neo-liberal agenda in globalization. The ‘Spirit of Seattle’ became the rallying cry for those who opposed the market fundamentalism mindset of the time.

But, today, another global Seattle being built, says Sparke. Neither the promoters of market competition nor the collaborative proponents of global justice have gone away, but in the aftermath of their now-famous standoff, a third and arguably “curative” rethinking of the city is taking shape: a re-visioning of Seattle as a world center of global health philanthropy and other private-sector treatments for the mismatch between global markets and global justice.

As cited in the influential global health blog Humanosphere, Sparke argues that “The Gates Foundation is basically addressing the same global challenges that the protesters were. But they are doing it in a way that’s much more comfortable with and friendly to the traditional neo-liberal market-based approach.” In his chapter on “Global Geographies” in the department’s recent publication, Seattle Geographies, Sparke also warns of the “commodified” and “corporatized” vision of global health, “taking us back to the age-old competitive concern about promoting Seattle as a global health market leader”:

The co-optation of global health for selling the city in the old game of global boosterism will seem for many a bitter pill to swallow. But if the historical geography of Seattle’s ongoing remaking as a global city tells us anything, it is that the definition of civic citizenship is always in flux, always being contested, and always, therefore, up for grabs….Global soul is not always for sale, and this city reminds us that there is going to be a battle for it–an ongoing Battle of Seattle over the meaning of world class.

How the ‘Battle in Seattle’ led to a global health epicenter | Humanosphere.

Exciting Fall Quarter Simpson Center Events

Biological Futures in a Globalized World

Emerging Issues in Biological Futures: A Panel Discussion

When: Monday, Oct 10, 2011 – 4:00 PM Where: Communications 202

Biological Futures in a Globalized World brings together scholars across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to explore the current and future impact of bio-technology on human affairs. This inaugural colloquium, moderated by Alison Wylie (Philosophy), features Matthew Sparke (Geography) on global health and South Lake Union as a hub for biotechnology; Leah Ceccarelli (Communication) on the metaphor of the frontier in debates about research priorities in the biological sciences; and Gaymon Bennett (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) on ethics and the practice of synthetic biology. Part of the 2011-12 Biological Futures Colloquium series.

Posthegemony and Affect

Friday, Oct 14, 2011 – 1:00 PM Communications 202

Beasley Murray is author of Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America (2010).

Indigenous Peoples and the Idea of Reconciliation

When: Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 – 4:00 PM Where: Communications 12

In this presentation, Dale Turner, author of This is not a peace pipe: Towards a Critical Indigenous Philosophy (2006), will discuss the evolving idea of Indigenous reconciliation in the context of the recently ratified United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Love Live Shame! The Good Side of Nations and Nationalism

When: Tuesday, Nov 8, 2011 – 6:30 PM Where: Kane 120

Benedict Anderson (Emeritus, International and Government Studies, Cornell University).
This talk by the author of the landmark book Imagined Communities, addresses the origins of political shame and the value that should be attached to it. What creates the visceral attachment people feel for their country? Before which spectators is the emotion aroused? What understanding of “nation” is necessary? Can political shame is progressive and emancipating?

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Friday, October 14

The Weakness of One: Devolution, Responsibilisation, and Citizenship in Neoliberal Rationality

When: Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 – 6:00 PM Where: Communications 120

In this talk, Wendy Brown, author of Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010) and Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (2006) among many other books, offers a theoretical analysis tracing how neoliberalism shapes agency and how that impacts political possibilities for leftist projects.


Welcome to the Simpson Center | Simpson Center for the Humanities.

“Geography Report Card”: Geographic Knowledge Declining

Winnie Hu’s recent NY Times article, “Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging” (July 20, 2011) laments the fact that fewer than in one in three American students are proficient in geography–to the point where they can’t even identify the American Southwest on a map, according to report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The article is rich in irony, quoting Penn State’s Roger Downs, that “geography’s role in the curriculum is limited, and, at best, static.”

That is ironic given the convincing case that can be made for the importance of geographic literacy,” Mr. Downs said. “But it is doubly ironic given a world in which adults and now children have smartphones and tablets that can download maps on the fly, provide directions to places, and give your location to your friends.

The article also cites the concerns of  David P. Drsicoll, the  National Assessment Governing Board chair:

“Geography is not just about maps,” said Driscoll…who expressed concern that students were not doing better in geography. “It is a rich and varied discipline that, now more than ever, is vital to understanding the connections between our global economy, environment and diverse cultures.”

Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging – NYTimes.com.