The Chinese Exodus

Migration, Urbanism and Alienation in Contemporary China

This book offers a sociological analysis as well as a theological discussion of China’s internal migration since the marketization reform in 1978. It documents the social and political processes that encompass the experiences of internal migrants from the countryside to the city during China’s integration into the global economy.

Informed by sociology analysis and narratives of the urban poor, this volume reconstructs the political, economic, social and spiritual dimensions of this urban underclass in China who made up the economic backbone of the Asian superpower. In China, market forces encouraged by a watchful communist state create a double demoralizing effect in the political as well as economic realm. Their dire consequences are acutely felt by the creation of millions of left-behind children in rural areas or migrant children in urban enclaves of poverty.

Lawyers, NGO workers and other good Samaritans who try to help lift up institutional bias have encountered tremendous challenges. Christians’ outreach to this urban underclass has been ongoing but less effective due to the suppression of civic space. As China’s Great Migration accompanied the growth of urban Christianity, these migration-led social problems invite theological reflections on social justice, urbanism, alienation and hope.

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Also available from the publisher Wipf and Stock Publishers


In the past two decades China has witnessed the most massive peacetime internal migration in the history of the world. Ma’s groundbreaking study of China’s urban migrants combines careful sociological research with deep theological reflection as she responds to the biblical injunction to both "know the stranger" and "welcome the stranger." Her penetrating analysis reveals the paradox of those who, due to the entrenched discrimination of China’s socialist system and the forces of capitalist domination, live as immigrants in their own country.

Brent Fulton, President, ChinaSource

The Chinese Exodus is a moving description, based on social science research and extensive personal interviews, of the poverty, prejudice, and destruction of social bonds experienced by those who have migrated from the rural areas of China to the cities. But it's more than that, and it's the "more" that makes Li Ma's discussion unusual and important. She interweaves her descriptions of urban poverty and social disorientation in China with a rich and passionate Christian theological interpretation of those phenomena.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University

This profoundly important book provides an in-depth study of one of the major crises in contemporary China: the tragic plight of the large numbers of rural poor who have migrated to urban centers in recent years. These folks experience difficult—indeed, in many cases, unspeakable—hardships. Li Ma not only describes the contours of their lives with impressive sociological insight, but she also advocates on their behalf by making it clear that their plight touches the very heart of God. I hope that this fine book moves many human hearts—as it has moved mine!

Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary

This book . . . exposes the unbearable burden upon millions and millions of rural migrants . . . in the former communist countries whose population lived mostly in the countryside at the time of their opening and reform. Li Ma . . . goes beyond the "scientific research" of the phenomena. Poverty, deprivation, and alienation can be described and analyzed, but she points out convincingly that the root lies deeper. Only with faith in God can migrants get internal freedom and the sense of being equal before God.

Jingbei Hu, Tongji University

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Mary Li Ma

Mary Li Ma

Mary Li Ma (MA Li) holds a PhD in sociology from Cornell University. Currently a research fellow at the Henry Institute of Christianity and Public Life at Calvin University, Dr. Ma and her husband LI Jin have coauthored articles, book chapters, and are the authors of Surviving the State, Remaking the Church: …View Full Bio