China’s Internal Passport – Changing the Hukou System
Millions of Chinese are living as second class citizens in several of the biggest cities in China. Most of these citizens have no access to social benefits and have limited ties in the place they work. Because of this situation, a majority of the citizens are unhappy, have lower consumption and have decreased productivity.
Experts say that the root of this problem is the hukou system or China’s household registration. The hukou is a small red colored passbook which contains important information of every family, from marriages, births, divorces, death as well as the city or village in which the person or family lives. Attached to the hukou are benefits including pension, health care and free education of the holder’s children. These benefits can only be attained if the holder is living in the place where he or she is registered. Without a hukou a person will also have a hard time getting a driver’s license, purchasing a car or a home.
As the country is striving to bring balance to the economy by bridging the gap between rich and poor, policy makers are discovering that the hukou system is more of a liability; for which China’s cabinet made plans to make it easier for rural migrants to obtain a hukou. As China eases its restrictions, Premier Wen Jiabao said that migrant workers will be permanent urban residents in an orderly manner. China’s hukou system badly needs an overhaul, since the system is morally indefensible it impedes economic growth and urbanization. The hukou system will not be abolished since authorities still fear a nationwide flood of migrants into China’s biggest cities raising the possibility of mass unrest and providing benefits to these new migrants will also be costly to the government.
Though the Chinese family registries have been around for centuries, the hukou system was created in 1958 as an adaptation to Soviet Union’s internal passport regime. Once implemented farmers were forced to stay and produce cheap food to help sustain industrialization. Once the economy started to prosper it allowed mass migration from the country to urban factories and enterprises. A worker’s residency didn’t need to transfer cities, neither did his rights to health benefits and free education.
While cities in China accounted for 690 million of China’s population last year, more than 200 million of those people lacked hukou. These 200 million living in company dorms or in cheap housing and separated from their families are unable to receive government benefits. They don’t know what the future holds for them and they fear getting into an crippling accident or worse, losing a job. Instead they save rather than spend what they are earning.
According to some people there are several ways to attain a hukou, the first is through employment. Last year alone 6,000 hukou were distributed to Beijing companies to give workers and potential applicants. Another way is to purchase a hukou in the black market. It is inevitable that some hukou that are allotted for companies end up in the black market. This is deemed illegal and some of the hukou’s being sold are fake. Prices for these hukou can cost 70,000 yuan and can go as high as 150,000 yuan.
Another way for a person to acquire a hukou is through inheritance, if the person’s parents are born in Beijing, Shanghai or other big cities then they are lucky to fall under this category. Finally, a person can get a hukou through marriage, you can get the same hukou as your husband or spouse as long as you drop your previous registration.