Hukou reform highlighted at the NPC session

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China's household registration system - or Hukou - determines where a citizen can access public services such as medical care, education, and pension. This has been a constant source of grievance for many people.

File photo of the Hukou booklet, or China's household registration certificate. [Photo: Xinhua]

File photo of the Hukou booklet, or China's household registration certificate. [Photo: Xinhua]

Hukou reform is high on the agenda at the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

Song Ying is a white-collar worker living in Shanghai. She moved there two years ago from Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. After some serious efforts, she acquired a local hukou. Life has since become much easier for her.

"First, it is far more convenient for me to process documents, licenses and such. Second, it is easier to find a job because companies generally prefer to hire candidates with a local hukou."

Song is lucky, as getting a hukou in a big city can be next to impossible. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, more than 8 million people living and working in Beijing are doing so without a local hukou.

Yang Liu is one of them. She explains why she wants to get that elusive hukou so badly.

"Most importantly, a Beijing resident can enjoy many social perks, which are not available to migrants. For example, if I want to travel to Taiwan on my own, I simply can't when my hukou is from Hebei. I have to be a Beijinger to do that sort of thing."

Yang is not the only one who thinks that way. In fact, social perks attached to one's hukou are a big selling point for most people. And that inevitably leads to problems.

Peng Xizhe, director at the State Innovative Institute for Public Management and Public Policy Studies at Fudan University, elaborates.

"We think the hukou system is very important because our social management and public services are based on this system. Although it was originally designed as a household registration system, it became much more than that. In effect, you can get different social welfare depending on where your hukou is. That causes problems."

So what's the solution? NPC Deputy Cai Jiming makes some suggestions.

"We can first list the differences between local residents and migrants in housing, medical care, education, employment, unemployment insurance, and pension. Then, we try to abolish these distinctions one by one. If we achieve that, we can say 'mission accomplished.'"

Cai's vision cannot be realized overnight, but there has been progress. Last December, provisional regulations on residence cards started being implemented in Beijing.

Du Peng, director of the Information Center for Aging Studies in Renmin University of China, explains how residence cards can contribute to social fairness.

"If I want to work in the city and I have a residence card, I can get access to related information and receive training. In other words, if residence cards can guarantee more welfare gradually, hukou will eventually become useless."

And speaking of welfare, NPC Deputy Han Deyun is determined to make one thing happen.

"We must make sure migrants who have residence cards can take their children with them and these children should have access to education."

That echoes the concern of Zhou Zhaojun, who has lived in Beijing for 26 years.

"I now have a proper job and I also bought an apartment. The only thing that bothers me is my children's education. In Beijing, if you don't have a hukou, you cannot participate in the college entrance examination."

Although the situation has not changed just yet, Zhou is optimistic. He believes his problem will be solved in the near future.

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