As Beijing's migrant population continues to grow, some experts
believe the decades-old hukou system is outmoded and
The policy requires migrants to get temporary permits, or the
much harder to obtain hukou, once they move to the
These days, a growing number of those who relocate to find
better jobs in Beijing tend to stay longer or even resettle with
their entire families, according to a study by the Renmin
University of China.
The investigation revealed that this "floating population" in
Beijing, currently at 3.57 million, stays an average of 4.8 years
in the city.
In addition, over 51 percent of those remain for more than five
years while over 41 percent bring the whole family.
"It is getting trendier for them to come and reside with the
whole family," said Zhai Zhenwu, dean of the School of Social and
Representing 23 percent of local residents, most migrants live
in the nearby suburban areas and villages within downtown.
The thriving low-skilled labor market in Beijing has been a
major source of jobs for unskilled migrants.
Zhai said the most basic jobs in the city offer higher wages
that far exceed what migrants would have earned in rural areas. But
city life also means a poor quality of life and inadequate social
For example, statistics show that the urban per capita
disposable income in Beijing is five times more than the average in
rural areas of neighboring Hebei Province and 6.7 times more than
that in Anhui Province.
China's hukou system, established in the 1950s, divided
the Chinese into two categories: rural and non-rural households.
The policy was established to control population migration, largely
from rural to urban areas.
Under the policy, rural people are not granted social security
in cities and are restricted from receiving public services such as
education, medical care, housing and employment.
On the other hand, their urban compatriots have no access to
farmland in the countryside.
For years, non-rural residency, especially in cities like
Beijing and Shanghai, has been a difficult goal for outsiders,
particularly rural migrant workers.
According to Zhang Chewei, vice-president of the Research
Institute of Population Science at the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences in Beijing, the system needs work.
He referred to the "unfair treatment in social recourses and
justice, also it hinders market development in both rural and urban
For example, each migrant worker must fork over 20,000 to 30,000
yuan (US$2,597 to 3,896) for a child to enrol in a local primary or
middle school. And they're often turned down if they try to buy
affordable homes in urban areas.
It is estimated that more than 120 million rural workers live in
cities throughout China.
"Hukou has played a significant role as basic data provider and
identification registration in certain historical periods, but it
has become neither scientific nor rational," Zhang said.
Reform of the hukou system began in 1992, but the
policy remains complicated and unfair for many.
Last month, the Ministry of Public Security said the country
will reform the system, but did not offer any details.
Yu Lingyun, a professor with the Law School of Tsinghua
University, called for the system to be abolished.
"It is not hukou that has robbed the social welfare of the
'floating population,' but the discriminating system itself, and
most fundamentally the limited public finance," Yu told China
"If not for the hukou system, schools can find other
reasons to decline a rural student," he said. "Under current
conditions, at least we should not bear any prejudice against
them," he said.
(China Daily April 10, 2007)