According to the Beijing municipal government's statistics bureau, the floating population in the capital reached 3.866 million in 2003.
With dreams and hopes, they settle down. But what is life like for this group of people?
Quan Ming, a costume designer, arrived in Beijing a couple of years ago with merely 600 yuan (US$72) in his pocket. "I had to find a job before my money ran out. And I knew there was no turning back."
He booked a room in a small hotel in Qianmen which cost him a startling 40 yuan for one night.
"It is not just some sort of fortune making thing that takes me here. My enduring ideal is to be an outstanding designer."
Quan was appointed chief designer two years after he entered his third company. Before that he quit two stable but unchallenging jobs.
"I feel really comfortable in Beijing."
For Liu Zhou, Beijing is a perfect city for literary and artistic creation.
A former magazine director in the editorial section, Liu made up his mind to further his career in Beijing on his first business trip to the city.
"There are so many things here which stir up my inspiration. I always find myself highly excited. The city enables me to produce more and more work."
Liu attributes his success in writing to Beijing's humanistic environment.
Unlike Quan and Liu, people like Yan Mingjun, who left the countryside for a better life in the city, Beijing is a place to lose the chains of poverty.
Yan started his own business by providing restaurants and work units with fresh vegetables at a lower-than-average price 10 years ago. He earned no more than 10 yuan on the first day. "I was so overjoyed, I couldn't sleep that night."
Now Yan can afford his older daughter's tuition, which costs thousands of yuan a year.
"It would be impossible to do the same thing in my hometown. I don't feel homesick at all, nor do I want to be back."
Last year, Yan replaced his second-hand tricycle with a station wagon, a much more advanced transport vehicle.
Xuan Rong is a journalist from southern China who stayed in Beijing after graduation.
"Though I didn't really want to leave home, I got a stable job with a good income in Beijing.
"I hardly feel at home living in Beijing though," Xuan said. "However, for people in the news profession, Beijing is the biggest stage on which to ply one's trade.
"Beijing is also a place where people must keep learning to avoid being washed out. It must be a great city in the eyes of people favoring challenges."
An Zhaoxing has a different story to tell as he continues farming in Beijing, away from his rural village, which he declined to name. He has rented a piece of farmland from a household in a rural suburb Beijing, on which he grows vegetables and earns nearly 10,000 yuan a year. "That is a lot better than what villages earn in my hometown."
Yet An has decided to go back to his hometown when he gets older. "After all, Beijing is not my home no matter how prosperous it appears."
This article first appeared in the Beijing Evening News.
(China Daily October 2, 2004)