The Bartlett School of Planning


Siyao Liu

Research subject

Thesis title: Migrant Integration in Peri-urban Beijing

Primary supervisor: Professor Fulong Wu
Secondary supervisor: Dr Fangzhu Zhang and Professor Mike Raco
Sponsor: Becas Chile
Starting date: September 2014
Projected completion date: July 2019
Contact: Siyao.liu.14@ucl.ac.uk,  07578260560

Siyao Liu

Concerning what happens once immigrants arrive at the destination city and how they adapt to the host society, the dominant interpretation of this process in North America is known as assimilation, which usually involves immigrants learning, sharing and adapting to alternative, different cultures, values and lifestyles. While in Europe, scholars choose to use alternatives such as ‘adaptation’, ‘integration’ or ‘incorporation’ in order to avoid the implication of cultural submersion.

In metropolises, jobs available in labour markets either require advanced education and skills or offer low wages. As a result, a city can have a wide spectrum of migrants, from well-educated graduates, highly-skilled professionals and affluent entrepreneurs, to low-skilled workers, less-educated peasants and penniless scroungers. Diverse socioeconomic backgrounds of these migrants, combined with attributes of urban labour markets, have undoubtedly varied their integration into their receiving cities. Thesocial mobility, upward or downward, and exclusivism from locals reduce intergroup interaction, precipitate social exclusion, increase social tension and eventually undermine stability of the society.

In China, growing rural-urban and inland-coastal disparities have also caused hundreds of millions of migrants from vast rural regions and lagging towns to migrate to the coastal metropolises in search of decent jobs and better futures. They are as vulnerable as those deprived immigrants facing obstacles when trying to integrate into the mainstream society. Not surprisingly, studies on migrant integration in urban China have been on the rise. A large volume of research on the system of household registration (hukou) system shows formidable barriers to rural migrants’ integration into cities as these people are not eligible for most state-provided opportunities, and state or employer-subsidised benefits. Their access to employment, housing, education and health care is severely constrained. Despite a considerable number of studies, researchers barely touch upon neighbourhood characteristics as another potential determinant of migrants’ integration. They overwhelmingly focus on rural migrant instead of seeing rural-urban and urban-urban migrants as a whole. Actually, 2009 census data from Beijing Statistical Information Net shows there were 7,044,553 migrants in Beijing among whom 32.31% are urban-urban migrants. As a significant component of China’s floating population, these urban-urban migrants should not be neglected from our research.

Studies on ethno-cultural enclaves and mixed neighbourhoods have revealed a highly complicated relationship and a vague connection between integration into mainstream society and neighbourhood characteristics. However, segmented assimilation theory and empirical study in ethno-cultural enclaves and mixed residential communities provide an insight that neighbourhoods Migrant Integration in Peri-urban Beijing may play either positive or negative roles in internal migrants’ integration in China. This research aims to interrogate the potential correlation between migrant integration and neighbourhood types. Via an anthropological approach – participant observation, this research collects and analyse qualitative data of migrant households’ daily life in four neighbourhoods. It then draws upon ethnographic narrative to unfold the processes of their different integration approaches and clarify the dynamics behind. The results illustrate that neighbourhood type is significantly related to the outcomes of migrant integration, and different neighbourhoods provide various means for migrant to integrate into receiving city. An explanation for these findings is that neighbourhood is an important space in which economic integration and acculturation happens or social networks are knitted. The existence or absence of the foregoing upward mobility in different neighbourhoods either provides pathways for the adaptation into a new urban society or hinders integration. Meanwhile, insufficient interaction with neighbours may not necessarily mean unsuccessful integration into the city as neighbourhood is not the only place for migrants to integrate; their upward mobility might be achieved outside the residential communities they live in. As migrant integration is found to be significantly influenced by neighbourhood types, the finding expands the segmented assimilation theory to include spatial distribution as another determinant of integration. This detailed empirical investigation also fills the gap of recent research (e.g. Wu & Logan, 2016; Wu & He, 2005) which mainly focuses on the statistics without detailed neighbourhood level observation.


Wu, F., & Logan, J. (2016). Do rural migrants ‘float’ in urban China? Neighbouring and neighbourhood sentiment in Beijing. Urban Studies, 53(14), 2973–2990.

Wu, F. & He, S., 2005. Changes in traditional urban areas and impacts of urban redevelopment: A case study of three neighbourhoods in Nanjing, China. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 96(1), 75–95.


Siyao Liu is a PhD candidate at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London under the supervision of Professor Fulong Wu, Dr Fangzhu Zhang and Professor Mike Raco. Her PhD research focuses on neighbourhoods and migrant integration in China.  She also works as a research assistant at the Bartlett School of Planning on Chinese informal settlement: rethinking urban futures in the Global South project (Found by British Academy). The aim of this project is to demonstrate the feasibility of building a more inclusive and participatory city in China. Siyao graduated from Cardiff University in 2013 with an MSc in International Planning and Development. Before that, she completed a four-year study in ethnology and anthropology in Minzu University of China, earning a bachelor’s degree in history in 2011. Given her education background, Siyao has an interest in interdisciplinary study combining insights in urban planning and anthropology. She specialises in the use of participant observation and ethnographic narrative to decipher dynamics behind urban issues, notably those related to migrants, neighbourhood, and urban minorities.

Publications and other work

Conference papers and presentations

Liu, S., Wu, F., Zhang, F. Integration Pathways toward Permanent Urban Residents in Beijing. Paper of 2017 International Conference on China Urban Development, 2017. Presentation.

Liu, S., Wu, F., Zhang, F. Contextualising Assimilation Theory in Migrant Integration Study in Urban China. Paper of 2017 American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, 2017. Presentation.

Liu, S., Wu, F., Zhang, F. Migrant Integration in Peri-urban Beijing — Is Neighbourhood a Device? Paper of the 33rd International Geographical Congress (IGC), 2016. Presentation.


Research Assistant of the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL on British Academy project (2017-2018) Urban Futures–Chinese informal settlement: rethinking urban futures in the Global South 2017.11-present

Coordinator of China Planning Research Group (CPRG), the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL