Alice and Sidney Goldstein

Below is an excerpted interview between Sidney and Alice Goldstein, demographers at Brown University and Lucy Boltz '12.5.

Sidney and Alice Goldstein first worked together when they were engaged to be married.  Sidney was a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania and was working on a dissertation dealing with population change in a city nearby Philadelphia, Norristown.  As Alice notes, 'This was not a period when women went to work and had children."  Despite this, Alice remained an active assistant in Sidney's Research from their time at UPenn into his later research when they started to raise children.  From this demography work at UPenn looking through city directories and census data, they found an important result which is known through population and sociology work called repeat migration.  Here Sid and Alice explain the discovery:  

LB: So what was the relationship that you found to urbanization and growth of cities and I guess economic development. What did you find?

SG: Well the greatest discovery of which I became somewhat famous professionally you have to excuse me I have a cold, was that people made very frequent moves. That people who moved into the city in one year of the decade, quite often moved out of the city in a succeeding year of that decade or at least in a succeeding year of the following decade. This became known under the concept of "repeat migration" and I said, my greatest contribution of my thesis to literature on migration. In population studies, the high rate of migration that we have in the United States in large part are probably due to the fact that people move so many times.

AG: That is the same group of people were moving in and out. 

SG: Many people some of whom once, and other ten or fifteen times in the course of their lifetime. So this was seen as important to helping to explain why the United States was such a mobile country.

LB: So that the same group of people in the United States were moving lots of times rather than everyone moving twice.

AG: Right, there's one big group that is fairly stable and there's another large group that keeps on moving- the homads and the nomads. And that was a major discovery that Sid made in this Norristown study. And it's interesting, as a historian and I got involved in working on this stuff because we were engaged at the time. I was interested in what he was doing because you could see traditional occupations disappearing, horse-shoer or harness-maker, 

SG: Cigar

AG: cigar-makers and they were turning up as factory workers, industrialized kind of jobs. So that was the really interested kind of trends that you could follow as we were working through the directories. 

SG: That the migration, you could analyze migration in relation to development.

After conducting a study in Denmark finding that repeat migration occurred there too, Sidney began attending more international population studies conferences and eventually joined the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP).  This led to work on urban and rural population studies in Thailand where he also set up a population studies center at the University in Bangkok.  Subsequently, he was invited to become the chair of the committee on urbanization at the IUSSP.  In this position he conducted studies of many countries around the world.  He explains how that project eventually led him to China:

AG: Well that project was designed to get countries from different parts of the world, and countries that were under different types of regimes. So it was interested in the United States and the European counties, but it was also interested in African countries, some from Latin America, the Soviet Union, and some of the Asian countries to also natural at that time to want to include China as one of the largest, the largest Asian country.

SG: The largest country in the world.

AG: In the world. But this was in the early 1960s, early 1970s and the United States didn't have relations with China at that point, right? Want to pick it up from there? 

SG: So as Alice said we chose countries with different histories of economic development: capitalist vs. communist, and also developers vs. developing economies and the committee was very intent on having China included as one of the countries to be compared with the other countries in the study. So they asked me as chair of the committee to approach demographers in China to see if they would undertake an in-depth study of urbanization, migration in China to contribute to the work of the committee. Well because the United States didn't have diplomatic relations with China there was a real challenge: How do I go about contacting people in China? I tried initially naively to write a letter to what I knew was the leading demographer in China and told him about the work of the committee and asked if they would be willing to join the committee's work by taking responsibility for doing a study of urbanization, migration in China. I have a copy of the letter downstairs.…

SG: There was no answer. And probably because he mentioned that it would involve working with me, an American.

AG: And this was during the Cultural Revolution so it would have been very difficult for the Chinese to have any contact with Westerners. 

SG: Then a strange thing happened. In about 1978 I was opening my mail at the university and out of the clear blue there was a letter from China, from the person to whom I had written about five six years earlier. But what had happened in the meantime was of course that the United States under Nixon and Kissinger and eventually President Carter established diplomatic relations with China. So that President Carter was…

AG: Well, more to the point was that Mao was overthrown. And the gang of four was overthrown. 

SG: But they started it with Mao. Kissinger met with Mao. 

AG: Right, right, with Zhou Enlai 

SG: And Mao was overthrown in '76 I think was the year. Carter extended diplomatic relations to China and a whole new era opened up in China. People felt and were almost literally liberated from the strong controls that Mao and his gang of four which was headed by his wife had imposed on professional liberties and individual liberties in China. So this individual to whom I had written in early felt free to write me a letter. And in the letter which I said I still have in my... in a very funny letter in a way, he acknowledged that he received my earlier letter and apologized for not answering it but said he hoped I understood that I couldn't do so because China was under the control of the gang of four and he couldn't interact with an American professional or he would have been punished. But now that the gang of four was punished- they were removed from the government, any role in the government, he felt free to write me. And he said he was very interesting to learn about the work of the committee and he was even more interested in learning about the work that I had been doing in Thailand in the late 1960s which I had mentioned when I first wrote him in 1970…

SG: I was thrilled of course because China was still the largest country in the world and even though we couldn't do the exact study that we wanted for the U.S.S.P Committee, I hoped it would open up professional contacts that would allow me as a Brown professor to begin doing some research on urbanization and migration.

AG: We were really the first demographer to go into China at that point. Other people had preceded Sid by a year or so from the United States but as a demographer he was among the very first. 

LB: What was that experience like working with Chinese demographers, the personal experience of doing that?

SG: Well in a way it was both exciting and a little scared because I didn't know what to expect in China or in Beijing. I did go in November 1979. I went from Thailand, Bangkok to Hong Kong. It took me several days on getting my visa, and then I had to take a train from Hong Kong to Beijing which was off the top of my head, I would say it was a 1500 mile trip, overnight trip. I had a lot of time to think about you know, what to tell them and what questions to ask. And finally when I arrived in Beijing, I was welcomed very graciously by a Chinese scholar which whom I had been corresponding. He told me what he thought would be the best way to orient the Chinese scholars about what I was interested in and to answer their questions. The main contact point was through what was known at the time, still its, the Chinese had an Academy they called the Academy of Social Sciences. And that was sort of the official government agency responsible for Social Science.

AG: They had all been trained in Russia and they were all following sort of the Russian model of how to study social sciences, very different from the Western model and didn't have the same statistical techniques at all. So they really didn't know anything about Western Social Science when you got there. 

SG: Right. So I met with, they brought together a group of ten people and we met everyday for about five days and they asked me first to tell them about how my committees work and my research at that time which I did. [46:46] And it was very clear by the questions they asked that they were completely behind or out of date with respect to the developments in social science and especially demography. 

AG: And survey research. 

SG: For as long as 30 years. 

AG: Yep.

LB: What is the Russian model that you referred to?

AG: Well, it's a more top down organizational model that has certain, old ideas about how to do research, how to take samples. What they used was a typical example of what would be, an individual, the type of thing that you would want to research and you would have to use a sample, random sample, the way we use statistically. It involved a lot of statistics. And it was just stuff we had used in the United States for many, many years. 

SG: Well the basic research was that in Russia and in China, because of the communists, meant that the government really controlled how people lived, where people lived, what they could do and what they couldn't do. So the Chinese felt like that because the government controlled the people that closely that they really knew everything about the people.  And you didn't need to have surveys really to find out what the people were doing. Because an example of that was whenever I raised the question of doing research on migration in China, the answer I got was, "Well we don't need to do that." And the reason they gave was because the government tells people where they can live and when they can move and if they move they have the state records. So they didn't even think they had to ask that question. In the census, because they already had their records. So that pulled out the rug from under the need for social research and social research, so it gave them all the answers they needed to their social science questions.

While in China, Alice and Sid saw the loosening up of Communism in China, the beginnings of free markets, where rural people could sell goods in the city and a pattern of undocumented or not permitted migration from the rural areas to urban areas.

SG: Yes, one thing about the Chinese you have to remember is that they were just giving up Communism.

AG: Well I wouldn't put it quite that way

SG: Well not giving it up completely. 

AG: They were relaxing. 

SG: They were opening themselves to the world, as they put it to some new ideas and allow people to visit China. So they asked me to come back to China and give them lectures on what was going on in demography and social science but they insisted that I would have to do that at my own expense. So I didn't know where I would get the support to do that. I said I would be willing to try but I couldn't guarantee that I would get the funding needed to do that…And it was also the time that they were loosening up a little bit on the communist control over the economy. They were using what they called The Responsibility System which meant that individuals could take some responsibility for earning money on their own and free markets were just opening up and peasants on the country side could come into urban places to sell their produce and their handicrafts or services. And so it was really exciting. 

SG: Another thing was that the commune system which was the way the government controlled the rural areas, organized villages into Communes.

AG: It was really the Russian model.

SG: And they told the village what to grow and when people could leave the village, how their labor should be utilized. Also was one way of controlling the fertility of the rural women.  So when I started my research, one of the changes in policy was they did away with basically the commune system and they gave the land back to the peasants, which was a tremendous change to the communist point of view. But what effect was that the peasants felt they could leave if they wanted to personally. They could leave the village and come to the city, which technically they could not because legally to come to the city they needed a permit. 

AG: Everybody had a household registration and if you were a peasant, your household registration was rural. And there was no way you could change that to urban. So there was no way you could officially move into the city, but with the dismantling of the commune system, there was a lot of extra labor in the rural areas because the communes are very inefficient and you were assigned to work there whether there was work for you or not. But once there was a lot of surplus labor [Cough] who didn't really have anything to do because a smaller number of people could work the fields. So what were they going to do? So they began to go out of permit, into the cities and without any official recognition. 

SG: No official housing.

AG: No jobs. 

SG: They couldn't send their kids to school. 

AG : Well first they were individuals in any case. But first, they didn't have any place to stay. Everybody had ration cards. So they didn't have any ration cards.

AG: Well once enough of, we're sort of getting ahead of the story, but once enough people came in and established families. They began having families who were also undocumented. Couldn't, as Sid was saying, you couldn't go to school if you didn't have the proper papers, have the resident permit from the city. You would get a whole group of uneducated children, often whole neighborhoods. They would establish their own schools. That was later. The early part of it was particularly young people who were post-schooling. And sort of entering the labor market and it was going on that sort of encouraging that.