By Jiawei Liu
China’s household-registrations system, or ‘hukou,’ prevents rural people who move to cities from becoming official urban residents, thus barring their access to local benefits such as health care and public education. Analysts say reform of the system, which dates back to the Maoist era, is essential for true urbanization to occur in China.
Of Beijing’s population of 20 million, over a third has no right to social services because they lack the proper hukou.
The current system is not only unfair, but also discriminatory. In 2012, Zhan Haite, a fifteen year old daughter of a migrant worker in Shanghai, demanded the right to attend a local school rather than return to her ‘hometown’ to continue her education.
Local governments provide free primary and middle schooling to the children of migrant workers, but are not obliged to provide secondary education or other social services. Zhan’s poignant plea for equal treatment to her Shanghai hukou possessing classmates, which she called a “desperate shout”, attracted some vitriol from Shanghai netizens. Some said she should “get out of Shanghai right now,” and called for the government to “protect Shanghai, protect our hometown”.
According to The Diplomat:
[A] group calling itself the “Shanghai Defense Alliance” has emerged to stage counter-protests, attempting to stop Zhan’s group from entering the Shanghai Bureau of Education to present their petition in October. The Zhans have also been evicted from their house, and her father was held in jail for several weeks for allegedly “scratching a police officer.”
Shanghai is one of China’s richest cities, with higher nominal GDP per capita than any other mainland administrative region other than Tianjin.
60 million children in China have to move back to their ‘hometowns’ to continue their educations, even if their parents could afford for them to study in the big cities.
Those children who are born in big cities (and whose parents have the right hukou), have access to more opportunities and better environment than the left behind children out in the provinces. The hukou system, far from enabling “true urbanization” instead worsens the already large prosperity gap between the cities and rurual China.