Asian Journal of Criminology

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 207–229 | Cite as

Rural-to-Urban Migration and Juvenile Delinquency in Urban China: a Social Control Perspective

  • Yinzhi ShenEmail author
  • Hua Zhong


In the past decade, the number of rural-to-urban migrant adolescents in urban China has soared. Official criminal justice statistics point to their higher level of deviance compared to urban adolescents. This study examines whether rural migrant children are more delinquent than their urban peers in the school sample. It provides explanations for the gap by linking Hirschi’s social bond theory with the literature on migration in China. Moreover, it formally tests which elements of social bonds mediate the relationship between migrant status and delinquency. Based on a large-scale survey in Guangzhou involving 470 rural migrants and 838 urban junior high school students, our analysis shows that migrant adolescents engage in slightly more delinquent behavior and have weaker social bonds than local adolescents. Attachment to parents and school, commitment to education, and belief in law fully mediate the positive relationship between migration and delinquency. Such findings indicate that within China’s dual urban–rural structure, rural-to-urban migration can increase these adolescents’ exposure to risk factors that undermine their social bonds to conventional society and thus lead to higher levels of delinquency.


Rural-to-urban migration Juvenile delinquency Social control Mediation China 



The data used in this study were collected by Professor Yuet-Wah CHEUNG (PI), Professor Hua ZHONG, and Professor Nicole Wai-Ting CHEUNG of the Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Their research project is entitled “Stuck in the City: Migration and Delinquency among Migrant Adolescents in Guangzhou”.


This data used in the study comes from a research project that was funded by the South China Program, Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyState University of New York at AlbanyAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong SAR

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