Public Lecture: Revitalizing the Countryside - East Asian Approaches

rural countryside in asia

ThinkChina, ADI and the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies are happy to invite you to this public lecture by professor Cornelia Reiher and associate professor Elena Meyer-Clement. The lecture features two talks that will look at the dynamics of internal migration and approaches of rural revitalization by central and local governments in Japan and China.

The question of how to revitalize rural areas has made it onto the agenda of policymakers worldwide. One key factor for successfully reversing the traditional dynamic of rural resource exploitation and for turning rural areas into spaces of economic innovation, are human resources. However, attracting talent to rural areas has proven difficult. The two lectures look at dynamics of internal migration and approaches of rural revitalization by central and local governments in Japan and China. With their focus on internal migration, they shed light on practices and challenges of managing populations in the two countries and highlight the underlying ideas about who constitutes the „ideal in-migrant”.


Can migrants revitalize Japan’s countryside? Governmental promotion of urban-rural migration in Northern Kyushu

Cornelia Reiher, Freie Universität Berlin

During the past decades, rural areas in Japan have been mainly discussed in a rather pessimistic way because of increasing regional and rural-urban inequalities, declining economies, infrastructure and local finances as well as shrinking populations due to demographic aging, declining birthrates and out-migration. Recently, especially against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of urbanites interested in relocating to the countryside has been increasing. Urban-rural migration is not unique to Japan. Retirees seeking relaxed sunset-years or younger people, who strive for more sustainable lifestyles, move to the countryside in many post-industrial societies. What is particular about Japan, are the programs and subsidies initiated by different stakeholders to attract people to move (back) to rural Japan and in turn to revitalize local economies and agriculture. The presentation focuses on Kyūshū, Japan’s most southern main island and discusses prefectures’ and municipalities’ promotion and support measures to attract urban-rural migrants and their outcome. While many scholars suggest that in-migration of educated and creative people has a positive impact on rural revitalization and thus on the future of rural communities in Japan, data from Kyushu show a less optimistic picture, but provide insights into creative ways of handling population and economic decline. 


Who shall revitalize China’s countryside? China’s “Rural Revitalization Strategy” and new trends in governmental regulation of internal migration

Elena Meyer-Clement, University of Copenhagen

In 2018, China’s president and CCP general secretary Xi Jinping proclaimed the “Rural Revitalization Strategy”. The huge and all-round rural development program continues many policies of previous governments, but one of the attempts that stands out in the new “strategy” is the focus on preserving traditional rural culture and promoting new forms of cultural and economic development. Since long, rural-to-urban migration has been a major consequence of rural development in China, despite continuous political regulation. In contrast, the current initiatives suggest regulatory attempts to attract certain groups of actors to the countryside by means of economic and cultural incentives. Based on a critical reading of policy documents and insights from field research in Zhejiang and Gansu provinces in 2018 and 2019, the presentation discusses China’s “Rural Revitalization Strategy” and its consequences for migration in two socio-economically very different provinces. It highlights the challenges that the combination of different governing tools and objectives generate for China’s rural regions and inhabitants.        


 Speaker bio

Cornelia Reiher is professor of Japanese Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, vice director of the Graduate School of East Asian Studies and head of the DFG research project “Urban-rural migration and rural revitalization in Japan”. Her main research interests include rural Japan, food studies and globalization. Her recent publications include Studying Japan: Handbook of research designs, fieldwork and methods (2020, co-edited) and chapters/articles on urbanites relocating to rural Japan (2020) and Japanese restaurants in Berlin during the Covid-19 pandemic (2022).


Elena Meyer-Clement is associate professor of China Studies at University of Copenhagen. Her research interests include China’s party-state, local governance, urbanization and the cultural sector. She co-leads research projects on “Political steering of urban-rural integration in China” and on “Social worlds: China’s cities as spaces of worldmaking”. Publications include Party Hegemony and Entrepreneurial Power in China: Institutional change in the film and music industries (2015), and the special issue “Rural urbanization China’s rural urbanization and the state: Putting the countryside first?” (co-edited, China Information, 2020).


Practical information 

Time and date: May 5th, 14:00-15:30

Location: University of Copenhagen, South Campus, Karen Blixens Plads 8, 2300 København S, Room 4A.1.15 

Registration: The lecture is free to participate in, but please register here.