A province in eastern China has scrapped household registration restrictions in a bid to bridge the urban-rural population divide, the first such initiative since China introduced its hukou system in the 1950s.
Earlier this week, authorities in Jiangxi announced that people from rural areas would be able to obtain household registration in the cities they’ve moved to with no restrictions. Previously, such people were required to live and work in a particular city for a set period of time before this document was granted.
In China, one’s household registration, or hukou, is linked to various social benefits including access to health care, public education, and even property.
Jiangxi’s reform, though groundbreaking, is also in line with a national urbanization plan from 2014 that called for the country’s 100 million rural residents to be living in cities, with urban hukou, by 2020. As of last year, 60.6% of China’s population was living in urban areas, though only 44.4% held urban hukou.
China’s hukou system came into effect in 1958, with the government seeking to industrialize cities while ensuring that people from the countryside stayed in their villages to maintain a stable food supply. The system has been in place ever since, despite growing attention to the often fraught situations of migrant workers, left-behind children, and other marginalized groups it creates.
“This is a bold step in the right direction to reform the hukou system’s restrictions of labor mobility,” Fei-Ling Wang, a professor of international affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of “Organization Through Division and Exclusion: China’s Hukou System,” told Sixth Tone. “It is very much in line with the general trend of localization of the hukou administration, signaling a progressive relaxation of the control of domestic migration and a welcome effort of reducing the urban-rural barriers, at least within a province.”
In recent years, demand for urban hukou has not only widened rifts between people and the services they’re eligible to receive, but also led to corruption. Those desperate to obtain household registration in coveted metropolitan areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen have gone as far as to enter into fake marriages or bribe officials.
According to Wang, though Jiangxi’s policy could be adopted by other regions with similar socioeconomic conditions, hukou restrictions are likely to continue in major urban centers, including first- and second-tier, cities as well as some third-tier cities and more “attractive” provinces.
In recent years Chinese authorities have introduced a series of increasingly relaxed hukou policies. In December 2019, the central government scrapped residency requirements for cities of fewer than 3 million people, with plans to raise the bar to cities of 5 million or less. In addition, many second-tier cities already offer lower hukou barriers for the well-educated or professionally successful.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: People Visual)