In tandem with the rapid economic development and social changes, the barrier of China's existing household registration system, that restricts people's freedom to migrate and divides the country into two distinctive urban and rural worlds, is expected to be broken very soon.
An official with the Ministry of Public Security, who is in charge of household registration affairs, confirmed Monday that a reform of the existing residence system will be introduced into all the country's county-level cities and administrative towns starting October 1.
According to relevant stipulations of the reform, non-natives, who have a legal and static dwelling place, a stable occupation and source of income, can apply for permanent residence in the cities and towns where they work and live.
The official said that the reform conforms to the need of China 's economic development and the process of the country's urbanization.
Some small cities and towns in the country have already conducted trial reform in this regard, according to the official.
Ningbo City in the economically developed Zhejiang Province, east China, has fully reformed the former household registration system, allowing people to register as permanent residents in cities and towns where they work and live.
Rao Xiangang, formerly a farmer in central China's Henan Province, was the first beneficiary of the reform. He and four family members have become permanent residents in Fenghua, a pilot city implementing Ningbo's reform of the residence system.
The city's new household registration system, which is aimed at localizing non-natives and urbanizing rural residents, allows all non-urban residents and non-natives, who have a legal and fixed dwelling place, a stable occupation and source of income, and their family members to voluntarily apply for permanent residence in urban areas.
Rao has been running a decoration business since he came to Fenghua City 10 years ago. Last year, he bought an apartment at a cost of 80,000 yuan.
The current residence system of China confines urban residents to cities and towns with housing, medical, education and employment benefits, and farmers to rural areas. Under the system, farmers are denied the benefits available to their urban counterparts even if they live and work in urban areas.
Rao's family now enjoys equal treatment with other residents of Fenghua City in all aspects. Now, he does not need to pay extra money for his 10-year-old son to go to a local school, but he had to pay an extra 3,000 yuan annually in the past.
Like Rao, more than 1,000 migrant rural laborers have become permanent residents in Fenghua City since the introduction of the new residence system in November last year, sources said.
Experts pointed out, Ningbo's reform of the residence system is a big breakthrough in China's existing household registration system which was adopted in 1958.
The reform in rural areas in China adopted more than 20 years ago has freed a great number of farmers from farmland, many of who settled in cities.
Economists pointed out, the existing residence system has hindered the process of urbanization in the country. By dividing the urban and rural areas into two completely different worlds, the old system affected the regional economic integration and to some extent, curbed the development of the potential consumer market.
For this reason, many places in the country have adopted a series of measures, including issuing special residence permits, to encourage farmers to reside in small cities and towns. Some big and medium-sized cities have also loosened their restrictions on the inflow of rural labor force.
Cities including Shanghai, Shenzhen and Zhuhai have regulations according to which anybody, who has bought local commercial property, can apply for status as a permanent resident; Beijing, China's capital, allows free inflow of technical workers with senior professional titles.
Actually, China has made big progress in urbanizing its rural areas in recent years.
Statistics show that the number of the country's small cities and towns had increased to more than 55,000 by the end of 1999. In the recent 10 years, more than 100 million farmers have become permanent urbanites, and their living standards have improved markedly.
Zhejiang chose 105 small cities and towns to implement the reform in residence system in 1996. Statistics show that these pilot cities and towns absorbed more than 400,000 rural residents in five years, with the population of 80 percent of the chosen small cities and towns being doubled.
China has 900 million farmers, and the number of rural surplus laborers is 160 million, according to statistics released early this year.
Experts predicted that with the progress of China's urbanization, 7 million to 8 million rural surplus laborers will be absorbed by small cities and towns each year in the future.
(People's Daily 08/28/2001)