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System Reformed to Bridge Urban-rural Gap

Zhang Zihua said she "feels settled at last" since she got her name written in the family's residence registration booklet in Wuhu City of east China's Anhui Province.

She had waited for the moment for seven straight years. In 1997, Zhang, then a rural girl in Wuwei county in province, married a Wuhu urbanite and moved in. But because of restrictions from the household registration system, she couldn't get her rural residence status changed nor could she enjoy the social welfare benefits entitled to her other family members, like medical or job positions.

In the meantime, their school-age son Jiang Cheng had to follow her status as a rural resident, which meant he couldn't enroll in primary schools without paying a handsome amount of money.

"It's not fair for us. We lived in the city, worked for the city and paid due taxes," said Zhang.

But things are all changing. From September this year, the city government abolished the rural registration system, granting unified "residence registration" to those with a legal regular residence in the city.

Wuhu is not the sole city which adopted new measures to manage household registration in China. The Chinese government has undertaken the improvement of the household registration system since the early 1990s. So far, over half of all China's provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have adopted various reform measures to cater to their specific situations.

The current household registration system was first introduced in 1958 in line with the then prevailing planned economy. The system divided the country into rural and urban areas and set strict limits on migration of peasant farmers to cities and towns.

"The system, playing a due role at that time when the resources were scarce, is no longer feasible and practical in current times when migration is common," said Prof. Wang Taiyuan, a noted household registration expert with the China People's Public Security University.

Wang referred to the system as causing inefficient distribution of resources, with an excessive focus of resources in urban areas.

Statistics show that current migrant residents in China amounted to 130 million, including 50 million registering as temporary residents in urban areas. In addition, the country now has 150 million surplus rural laborers and the figure is expected to reach 200 million by 2010.

"The reform aims to peel off the function of welfare affiliated to the household registration system, and provide a fair environment for all the residents," said Cheng Liming, director of the Wuhu public security department.

Citing the major function of the new system as proving the status of residents and helping provide data for census, Li said the system will last in the long run as an crucial part of government administration.

In addition to doing away with the term "rural registration", Wuhu's reform measures also include removing the threshold in this regard to encourage people of other areas to come to the city to invest, work and buy houses.

Liu Changjiang and Gu Ting, a young couple, came to the city from neighboring Jiangsu province five years ago to run a computer company, which now pays taxes of more than 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) every year. Having a daughter this February, they want to settle down in the city. According to the new measures, they are qualified to apply for residence registration in the city not only for themselves, but also for three more employees in their company.

"It will be more enticing for talents from elsewhere in China and easier for us to get them, "said Liu.

(Xinhua News Agency December 4, 2003)

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