The Household Registration System (Hukou)
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The Household Registration System (Hukou)
China, the WorldÐ²Ð‚™s fastest growing economic country composing of more than 1.3 billion inhabitants. With such a large population, it is necessary to have a well-organized system to manage the country.
Household Registration System or Hukou is the answer. It is one of the basic social management mechanisms in all countries. China manages its population of about 1.3 billion mainly through the household registration mechanism. The Hukou System is simply like a passport in those developed countries like in European Union. Someone who has a passport can go to many other countries without a visa, but restricted in other countries as one is not the citizen of that country. Similar to that, in China every legal citizen has his or her Hukou. A passport presents the nationality of a person, while Hukou presents the living or working place one person belongs to. So people living in the countryside have whatÐ²Ð‚™s called rural Hukou, while people living in city have an urban Hukou. Without such registration, Chinese citizens would be able to move everywhere inside China. But due to the existence of Hukou itself, the movement of people from one area to another is somewhat difficult and somehow restricted in many aspects in order to stay in a new place. However, Hukou is still considered as such a vital system to control migration inside China by preventing an excessive migrants or labor forces from rural area into some big cities and has existed in China for decades of years with some appropriate adjustment.
Brief History of Hukou System
During the pre-reform period, the central government formed and pursued a development strategy that mainly focused on the development of the heavy industry, which is the root for ChinaÐ²Ð‚™s rural-urban divide. This strategy aimed at achieving rapid industrialization by pulling out the agricultural surplus for capital expansion in industries and for supporting urban-based subsidies. The main enforcement mechanisms included the Unified Procurement and Unified Sale of agricultural commodities, the PeopleÐ²Ð‚™s Communes, and the Household Registration System (Hukou). Not long after the founding of the PeopleÐ²Ð‚™s Republic, the state acquired agricultural products with lower prices in the commodity markets. When the purchases became increasingly difficult in 1953, the state initiated the Unified Purchase and Unified Sale system with its completion occurring in 1958. Under this system, the government monopolized the whole process of production and procurement of agricultural commodities in rural areas and, at the same time, controlled the distribution of food and other agricultural products through rations in cities. Because this system lowered the cost of living in urban regions, the government had to implement corresponding policies to control the labor movements. At that time, the PeopleÐ²Ð‚™s Communes were already established, which became effective institutions for carrying out the governmentÐ²Ð‚™s economic as well as administrative plans. Because the control of labor flows was a key link for implementing the development strategy, a formal system of Household Registration System was established in the late 1950s that in effect designated the legal place of residency and work for the entire population.
The Chinese Household Registration System (Hukou)
In 1955, as one of its procedures for setting administrative control, the new Chinese Communist government established the Household Registration System, which is still in place today. All households were registered in the locale where they resided and also were categorized as either agricultural or non-agricultural households. The installation of the hukou system reflected an effort on the part of the government to cope with demographic pressures created by ChinaÐ²Ð‚™s rapid industrialization. After the civil war and two ensuing years of economic rehabilitation (1950-1952), millions of peasants were recruited by growing state industrial enterprises established in urban areas as part of the first Five-Year Plan (1953-1957), and many more moved without restriction into cities to look for urban jobs (Meisner 1999).
To control this rapid influx into cities, the registration system divided the population into agricultural and non-agricultural sectors as a basis both to restrict further rural-to-urban migration and to return rural migrants to the Countryside. Enforcement of the hukou regulations became especially strict in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), which threw the newly established system into chaos, followed by a dramatic increase in industrial growth and urban inflow. The government soon realized that ChinaÐ²Ð‚™s grain-production capacity was unable to sustain such a huge urban population, especially given the decline in agricultural production during the Great Leap Forward. Thus, beginning in 1959 the government expanded and rigorously enforced the hukou system as a tool to control migration. The success of the hukou system in restricting internal migration relied on two other administrative systems, through which rationing was carried out.
On the rural side, the Commune system enabled local governments to combine peasants to the land. All adults had to participate in agricultural production to receive food rations for their households (Parish and Whyte 1978) and migration was generally prohibited except with the permission of the local government. On the urban side, the principal administrative units for most urban residents were the workplace organizations (danwei), which administered most social services for their employees (Bian 1994). Without a work unit, it was very difficult to survive in a city because housing, food, and other social services were unavailable through the market. Moreover, because employment quotas in all urban work units were tightly controlled by the government labor administration, even rural residents willing to risk losing food rations by leaving their home villages would have little chance of getting a job in a city. This tight administrative control on both sides virtually eliminated unauthorized rural-to-urban migration in the pre-reform era. Economic reform during the next two decades relaxed this administrative control (Fan 1999).
The abolition of the commune system, starting in 1978, freed peasants to seek work in the industrial and service sectors. At the same time, both push and pull factors increased the propensity to migrate from the countryside into the cities. First, the introduction of the Ð²Ð‚Ñšfamily responsibility system,Ð²Ð‚Ñœ