|Alternative Chinese name|
Hukou is a system of household registration in mainland China and Taiwan, although the system itself is more properly called "huji", and has origins in ancient China. A household registration record officially identifies a person as a resident of an area and includes identifying information such as name, parents, spouse, and date of birth. A hukou can also refer to a family register in many contexts since the household registration record (simplified Chinese: 户口簿; traditional Chinese: 戶口簿; pinyin: hùkǒu bù) is issued per family, and usually includes the births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and moves, of all members in the family.
The system descends in part from ancient Chinese household registration systems. The Hukou system also influenced similar systems in neighboring East Asian countries—such as one within the public administration structures of Japan (koseki), Korea (hoju),and Vietnam (hộ khẩu). In South Korea, the hoju system was abolished in January 2008. While unrelated in origin, propiska in the Soviet Union and resident registration in Russia had a similar purpose and served as a model for modern China's Hukou system.
Due to its connection to social programs provided by the government, which assigns benefits based on agricultural and non-agricultural residency status (often referred to as rural and urban), the hukou system is sometimes likened to a form of caste system. It has been the source of much inequality over the decades since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, as urban residents received benefits that ranged from retirement pension to education to health care, while rural citizens were often left to fend for themselves. In recent years, the central government has begun to reform the system in response to protests and a changing economic system, but experts speculate as to whether or not these changes have been of substance.
- 1 Nomenclature
- 2 History
- 3 Household registration in mainland China
- 3.1 Rationale and function
- 3.2 Evolution
- 3.3 Effect on rural population
- 3.4 Reform
- 3.5 Hukou conversion today
- 4 Household registration in Taiwan
- 5 Relation to citizenship
- 6 Special administrative regions
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The formal name for the system is "huji." Within the huji system, a "hukou" is the registered residency status of a particular individual in this system. However, the term "hukou" is used colloquially to refer to the entire system, and it has been adopted by English-language audiences to refer to both the huji system and an individual's hukou.
According to the Examination of Hukou in Wenxian Tongkao published in 1317, there was a minister for population management during the Zhou Dynasty named Simin (Chinese: 司民), who was responsible for recording births, deaths, emigrations and immigrations. The Rites of Zhou notes that three copies of documents were kept in different places. The administrative divisions in Zhou Dynasty were a function of the distance to the state capital. The top division nearest the capital was named Dubi (Chinese: 都鄙), top division in more distant areas were named Xiang (Chinese: 鄉) and Sui (Chinese: 遂). Families were organized under the Baojia system.
Guan Zhong, Prime Minister of the Qi state 7th century BCE, imposed different taxation and conscription policies on different areas. In addition, Guan Zhong also banned immigration, emigration, and separation of families without permission. In the Book of Lord Shang, Shang Yang also described his policy restricting immigrations and emigrations.
Xiao He, the first Chancellor of the Han Dynasty, added the chapter of Hu (Chinese: 户律, "Households Code") as one of the nine basic law codes of Han (Chinese: 九章律), and established the Hukou system as the basis of tax revenue and conscription.
Household registration in mainland China
The hukou system has origins in China that date back to ancient times, but the system in its current form came into being with the 1958 People’s Republic of China Hukou Registration Regulation. Until very recently, each citizen was classified in an agricultural or non-agricultural hukou (commonly referred to as rural or urban) and further categorized by location of origin. This two-fold organization structure was linked to social policy, and those residents who held non-agricultural hukou status received benefits not available to their urban counterparts. [clarify] Internal migration was also tightly controlled by the central government, and only in the past few decades have these restrictions been loosened. While this system has played a major role in China’s fast economic growth, hukou has also promoted and aggravated social stratification and contributed significantly to the deprivation of many of China’s rural workers. In recent years, steps have been taken to alleviate the inequalities promulgated by the hukou system, with the most recent major reforms announced in March and July 2014, which included a provision that eliminated the division between agricultural and non-agricultural hukou status.
Rationale and function
In its original legislation, the hukou system was justified as created to
“...maintain social order, protect the rights and interests of citizens and to be of service to the establishment of socialism.”
The central government asserted that because rural areas had greater capacity to absorb and use excess labor, the majority of the population should be concentrated in these regions. Furthermore, free movement of people was considered dangerous, as it would lead to overpopulation of cities and could threaten agricultural production. Under the hukou system, the rural population was structured to serve as support for urban industrialization, both in agricultural production and workers for state owned businesses.
In reality, the hukou system served other ulterior motives as well. After establishing the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party enacted policies based on the notions of stability and rapid modernization, and the hukou system was no exception. Urban areas have historically been where authoritarian regimes are most vulnerable: to combat this, the central government gave preferential treatment to city residents, hoping to prevent uprisings against the state, particularly in the early years when it was especially susceptible to rebellion. The structure of the hukou system also bolstered the power of the central government over its urban citizens: by making city residents dependent upon the government for all aspects of daily life, the central government could force obedience from problematic individuals.
The central government’s efforts to contain migration has been a major factor in the rapid development of the Chinese economy. Their tight check on migration into urban areas has helped prevent the emergence of a number of problems faced by many other developing countries. For example, the appearance of slums outside of urban areas due to a massive influx of individuals searching for work has not been an issue, nor have poor health conditions due to high population density. And regardless of its other imperfections, the hukou system’s ability to maintain stability has contributed to China’s economic rise.
Pre-1949: Origins of the Hukou System
The legacy of the Chinese hukou system may be traced back to the pre-dynastic era, as early as the 21st century BC. In its early forms, the household registration system was used primarily for the purposes of taxation and conscription, as well as regulating migration. Two early models of the hukou system were the xiangsui and baojia systems. The xiangsui system, established under the Western Zhou Dynasty (circa 11th-8th centuries BC) was used as a method of organizing and categorizing urban and rural land. The function of the baojia system, propagated by Lord Shang Yang of the 4th century BC, was to create a system of accountability within groups of citizens: if one person within the group violated the strict rules in place, everyone in the group suffered. This structure was later utilized and expanded upon during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE) for the purposes of taxation, population control, and conscription.
The first formal codification of the hukou system arose at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) with the 1911 Huji Law. Although movement was nominally free under this statute, registration of individuals with the government was required, and it was used by the government to pursue communist forces and as a basis for taxation for the funding of wars. The law also expanded upon the baojia system, and was intended to establish a sense of stability.
In the period following the fall of the Qing Dynasty, China was ruled by various actors, each of which employed some system of household or personal identification. During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese employed a system used to identify those under their rule and to fund their war effort. Similarly, the Guomintang utilized the system to monitor the activities of their opponents, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Chinese Communist Party in turn used a system called lianbao, which bundled families into groups of five to aid tracking and impede counterrevolutionaries.
1949-1978: Maoist Era
At the time of its founding in 1949, the People’s Republic of China was a highly agricultural nation. About 89% of its citizens lived in rural areas – about 484 million resided in the countryside, versus about 58 million in the city. However, as efforts to industrialize increased, more and more rural residents flocked to the cities in search of better economic opportunities: between 1957 and 1960, there was a 90.9% increase in the urban labor force.
A major objective of the hukou system implemented by the central government was thus to control the stream of resources moving away from the agricultural sector. The instability and high rates of movement that characterized the years following the establishment of the nation impeded the central government’s plan for society and the economy. Although the hukou system in its current form was not officially brought into being until 1958, the years preceding its establishment were characterized by growing efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to assert control over its populace. In 1950, the Minister of Public Security, Luo Reiqing, published a statement detailing his vision for the implementation of the hukou system in the new era. By 1954, rural and urban citizens had been registered with the state, and rigorous regulations on the conversion of hukou status had already been implemented. These required that applicants have paperwork that documented employment, acceptance to a university, or immediate family relations in the city to be eligible. In March of the same year, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labor issued the Joint Directive to Control Blind Influx of Peasants into Cities, which proclaimed that henceforth, all employment of rural workers in city firms would be controlled entirely by local labor bureaus.
On 9 January 1958, the People’s Republic of China Hukou Registration Regulation was signed into law. This divided the populace into nongmin, with an agricultural hukou, and shimin, with a non-agricultural hukou, and grouped all citizens by locality. The key difference, however, lied in the distinction between agricultural and non-agricultural hukou status. Because the central government prioritized industrialization, state welfare programs, which were tied to hukou status, heavily favored urban residents; holders of agricultural hukous were unable to access these benefits and were saddled with inferior welfare policies. Furthermore, transfer of hukou status was highly restricted, with official quotas at 0.15-0.2% per year and actual conversion rates at about 1.5%. In the following years, government oversight over the movement of people was expanded. In 1964, greater limits were imposed on migration to big cities, particularly major ones like Beijing and Shanghai, and in 1977 these regulations were furthered. Throughout this era, the hukou system was used as an instrument of the command economy, helping the central government implement its plan for industrializing the nation.
From the establishment of the People’s Republic of China until Chairman Mao’s death in 1976, the central government tightened its control over migration, and by 1978, intranational movement was controlled entirely by the government. Because living “outside the system” was virtually impossible, nearly all movement of people was state-sponsored.
However, with Deng Xiaoping's rise to power in 1978 came the initiation of reforms that steadily began to alleviate some of the disparity between agricultural and non-agricultural hukou holders. Restrictions have been loosened on movement from rural areas to smaller cities, although migration to large cities such as Beijing and Tianjin are still heavily regulated. Greater autonomy has also been ceded to local governments in deciding quotas and eligibility criteria for converting hukou status. Legislation has been enacted that allow migrant workers to obtain temporary residency permits, although these permits do not allow them access to the same benefits as possessed by urban residents. However, with living outside the system now much more practical than it used to be, a number of migrant workers don’t acquire the temporary residency permits – primarily because they don’t have the resources or concrete employment offers to do so – and as such live in danger of being forced to return to the countryside. And in 2014, the central government announced reform that among other things eliminated the division between agricultural and non-agricultural hukou status.
Effect on rural population
Under the hukou system implemented by the central government in 1958, while holders of the non-agricultural hukou status were given ration cards for everyday necessities, including food and textiles, rural residents were forced to produce everything themselves. Whereas the state provided housing in the city, individuals had to construct their own homes. The state invested in education, arranged employment, and provided retirement benefits for city residents, and provided none of these services for their rural citizens. These disparities have left the rural populace highly disadvantaged, and tragedies such as the famine of the Great Leap Forward primarily ravaged rural Chinese citizens.
During the Great Leap Forward's famine
During the mass famine of the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962, having an urban versus a rural hukou could mean the difference between life and death. During this period, nearly all of the approximately 600 million rural hukou residents were collectivized into village communal farms, where their agricultural output - after state taxes - would be their only source of food. With institutionalized exaggeration of output figures by local Communist leaders and massive declines in production, state taxes during those years confiscated nearly all food in many rural communes, leading to mass starvation and the deaths of more than 30 million Chinese.
The 100 million urban hukou residents, however, were fed by fixed food rations established by the central government, which declined to an average of 1500 calories per day at times but still allowed survival for almost all during the famine. An estimated 95% or higher of all deaths occurred among rural hukou holders. With the suppression of news internally, many city residents were not aware that mass deaths were occurring in the countryside at all, which was essential to preventing organized opposition to Mao's policies.
During China’s transition from state socialism to market socialism (1978-2001), migrants, most of whom were women, worked in newly created export-processing zones in city suburbs under sub-standard working conditions. There were restrictions upon the mobility of migrant workers that forced them to live precarious lives in company dormitories or shanty towns where they were exposed to abusive treatment.
The impact of the hukou system upon migrant labourers became onerous in the 1980s after hundreds of millions were ejected from state corporations and cooperatives. Since the 1980s, an estimated 200 million Chinese live outside their officially registered areas and under far less eligibility to education and government services, living therefore in a condition similar in many ways to that of illegal immigrants or to black people living in "white" regions under Apartheit. The millions of peasants who have left their land remain trapped at the margins of the urban society. They are often blamed for rising crime and unemployment and under pressure from their citizens, the city governments have imposed discriminatory rules. For example, the children of farm workers (Chinese: 农民工; pinyin: nóngmín gōng) are not allowed to enroll in the city schools, and even now must live with their grandparents or other relatives to attend school in their hometowns. They are commonly referred to as the home-staying children. There are around 130 million such home-staying children, living without their parents, as reported by Chinese researchers.
As rural workers provide their workforce in the urban areas, which also profit from the respective taxes, while their families use public services in the rural areas (e.g. schools for their children, health care for the elderly), the system leads to a wealth transfer to the wealthier urban regions from the poorer regions on the public sector level. Intra-family payments from the working-age members to their relatives in the rural areas counteract that to some extent.
Challenges faced by migrant workers in the market
With the loosening of restrictions on migration in the 1980s came a large influx of rural residents seeking better opportunities in the cities. However, these migrant workers have had to confront a number of challenges in their pursuit of financial security. Urban residents received priority over migrants when it came to employment opportunities, and when migrant workers did find jobs, they tend to be positions with little potential for growth. While urban workers were supported by employment benefits and laws that favored them over their employers in case of disputes, rural hukou holders were not privy to such substantial protections. And because city officials’ performance was evaluated based on the prosperity of local residents and the local economy, they had little motive to improve the quality of life of migrant workers.
In 2008, the central government passed the Labor Contract Law, which guaranteed equal access to jobs, established a minimum wage, and required employers to provide contracts to full-time employees that included employment benefits. However, a 2010 study revealed that rural workers earned 40% less than urban workers, and only 16% receive employment benefits. Migrant workers’ labor rights are also frequently violated – they work excessively long hours in poor conditions, and face physical and psychological harassment.
Migrant workers are also disproportionately affected by wage arrears, which occurs when employers either fail to pay employees on time or in full. Although such incidences are technically illegal and punishable by seven years’ jail time, wage arrears still occur, and labor contracts and pensions may be disregarded. In a study conducted at the end of the 1990s, 46% of migrant workers were missing three or more months of pay, and some workers hadn’t been paid in a decade. Fortunately, over the past couple of decades the prevalence of wage arrears have decreased, and in a study conducted from 2006-2009, it was found that 8% of migrant workers had experienced wage arrears.
Children of migrant workers
Following Mao’s death in 1976 came economic reforms that caused a surge in demand in the labor market. Rural residents rushed to fill this void, but without the support of hukou status-based government social programs, many of them were forced to leave their families behind. Economic growth throughout the years has maintained a high demand for labor in the cities that continues to be filled by migrant workers, and in 2000, the Fifth National Population Census revealed that 22.9 million children between the ages of 0-14 were living without either one or both of their parents. In 2010, that number had gone up to 61 million, equal to 37.7% of rural children and 21.88% of all Chinese children. These children are usually cared for by their remaining parent and/or their grandparents, and although there is a 96% school enrollment rate among left behind children, they are susceptible to a number of developmental challenges. Left behind children are more likely to resist authority and experience problems interacting with their peers; they are more likely to exhibit unhealthy behaviors such as foregoing breakfast and smoking, and have an increased likelihood of developing mental health issues, including loneliness and depression. And although left behind children may have greater academic opportunities due to their parents’ expanded financial capacity, they are also often under greater pressure to perform academically and thus are more vulnerable to school-related stress.
Children of rural workers who do migrate with their parents also face challenges. Without a local, non-agricultural hukou, migrant children have limited access to public social infrastructure. For example, urban students’ educational opportunities are far superior to that of their migrant student counterparts. The central government reformed the education system in 1986 and then again in 1993, yielding greater autonomy to local governments in the regulation of their education system. Limited space and the desire to protect local interests in turn induced local governments to avoid enrolling migrant children in their public schools. Furthermore, because the central government subsidized public schools based on enrollment rates of children with local hukous, migrant children were required to pay higher fees if they wanted to attend. Consequentially, many migrant families elect instead to send their children to private schools that specifically cater to migrants. However, to lower enrollment and attendance fees, these institutions must cut spending in other areas, resulting in a lower quality of education. School facilities are often in poor condition, and many teachers are unqualified.
In subsequent years, the central government has enacted a number of reforms, with limited impact. In 2001, it asserted that public schools should be the primary form of education for the nation’s children, but didn’t specify how it would financially support schools in enrolling more migrant children, resulting in little change. Similarly, in 2003, the government called for lower fees for migrant children, but again failed to detail how it would help schools pay for this. And in 2006, the government created the New Compulsory Education Act with asserted equal rights to education and ceded responsibility for enrolling migrant children to provincial governments. However, this too failed to improve the lot of migrant children. Students with non-local hukou had to pay inflated admission fees of 3,000 – 5,000 yuan – out of an average annual household income of 10,000 yuan – and are required to take their college entrance exams at their hukou locality, where it is often harder to get into college.
The difficulties faced by migrant children cause many to drop out, and this is particularly common in the middle school years: in 2010, only 30% of migrant children were enrolled in secondary education. Migrant children also disproportionately deal with mental health issues – 36% versus 22% among their local hukou counterparts – and 70% experience academic anxiety. They frequently face stigmatization and discrimination based off differences in how they dress and speak, and have difficulty interacting with other students.
Impact on rural elderly
Not only has the mass exodus of rural residents from the countryside in search of work impacted the children of migrant workers, it has also affected the elderly left behind. With the institution of the one-child policy in the 1970s, the average age in China has undergone an upward shift: 82% of migrant workers were between the ages of 15-44 in 2000. This has called into question the traditional custom of filial piety, and while retired urban workers are supported by government retirement programs, rural workers must rely on themselves and their families. It appears that the effects of migration on left behind elderly is ambiguous: while parents of migrant children are often better off financially and are happy with their economic situation, they also tend to report lower life satisfaction than do elderly without migrant children. Like the children of migrant workers, parents are known to experience psychological issues such as depression and loneliness, and those that take care of their grandchildren may feel burdened by this responsibility.
Over the past few decades, the Chinese central government has taken steps towards reforming the hukou system. The years 1979-1991 saw the first steps taken in relaxing the hukou system. In October 1984, the central government released A Document on the Issue of Peasants Settling Down in Cities, which mandated that local governments accept rural migrants into cities as part of their non-agricultural population. This was followed in July and September 1985 by the Interim Provisions on Management of Transient Population in Cities and Regulations on Resident Identity Card, respectively. The former overturned a previous law that limited migrants to three months’ stay in the city without obtaining an urban hukou or returning home by introducing temporary residency permits, and the latter directed all citizens over the age of 16 to apply for an ID while also increasing access to jobs in the cities for migrants. This allowed for the migration 6.5 million young people to the cities as well as the reunion of 2 million couples. Then, in 1989, the Chinese government published A Notice on Strictly Controlling Excessive Growth of Urbanization, which seemed to act as a check on the reforms passed in previous years, calling for the continued management of migration and strict monitoring to prevent abuse of the system.
The following decades up until 2014 were generally characterized by continued opening of the hukou system. 1992 saw the introduction of the blue stamp hukou, which allowed those who invested 100 million yuan in specified areas, secured a white-collar job, or bought commercial real estate to acquire an urban hukou in certain cities. This program was then expanded in 1999 to include more cities. The blue stamp hukou legislation was followed in 1997 by the Pilot Scheme for Reform of the Hukou System in Small Towns and Instructions on Improving the Management of the Rural Hukou System. These allowed migrant workers to register as permanent residents with equal access to urban privileges in certain small towns, and were made official in 2012 in the Notice on Actively Yet Prudently Pushing Forward the Reform of Hukou System Management. These steps toward reform were interrupted in 2003 by the Administrative Permit Laws, which reversed much of the previously made progress and forced many migrant workers to return home.
The year 2014 saw the most drastic changes in hukou policy. In March, the central government released the New National Urbanization Plan, with goals to improve the structure of urbanization, increase hukou status conversion, and support overall sustainable development. Along these lines, the legislation detailed intentions to grant 100 million urban hukou and to decrease the overall floating population proportion relative to the total Chinese population from 17% to 15%, beginning in 2016 and with aims to reach these objectives by 2020. In July of the same year, the government published Opinions on Further Promoting the Reform of the Hukou System, which moved to ease restrictions on movement to towns and cities based on size. This included total abolishment of restrictions on towns and small cities, gradual removal of regulations on middle-sized cities, case-by-case relaxation of large cities, and the maintenance of tight control on the largest cities in China. Additionally, the July 2014 legislation eliminated the distinction between agricultural and non-agricultural hukou.
Though such legislation appears to be taking steps in the right direction, experts have cautioned against optimism. Kam Wing Chan (陳金永 Chén Jīnyǒng) and Buckingham's (2008) article, "Is China Abolishing the Hukou System?" argues that previous reforms have not fundamentally changed the hukou system, but have only decentralized the powers of hukou to local governments. They conclude that the hukou system remains active and continues to contribute to China's rural and urban disparity. Bingqin Li, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, has written that the new hukou reforms have not actually been effective in improving the quality of life in poorer regions of the country. Scholars have argued that the hukou system works in tandem with cultural distinctions that perpetuate and evolve the structure of inequality, despite institutional reform. Still, others seem excited, remarking that the demographic of some cities appear to be changing, with more parents choosing to bring their children along rather than leaving them behind.
Hukou conversion today
The Floating Population Dynamic Monitoring Surveys, which have been conducted every year since 2010 by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, have reported that a significant number of migrant workers are in fact not interested in converting their hukou status. While hukou policy reform has been gradual over the years, barriers to conversion have been lowered. However, many rural residents are hesitant to give up their agricultural hukou status. As rural hukou holders, they have property rights not afforded to their urban counterparts, which allow them to use land both for agricultural production and for personal use. And with the steady expansion of cities, property values of land near cities have significantly increased. Owners of these tracts of land may elect to give up agriculture in favor of renting out their homes to migrant workers. Furthermore, with the continued process of urbanization, land owners near cities can expect the central government to buy their land for a handsome sum sometime in the future. These benefits combined with the overall improvement in rural social welfare relative to that in cities have caused many rural residents to hesitate in converting their hukou status.
Household registration in Taiwan
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When Taiwan was under Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945, the Japanese government maintained the same system of household registration (koseki) as they did in other parts of the Empire of Japan. This system of household registration, with minor changes, has been continued. Records concerning native Taiwanese are fairly complete[when?]. Records of mainlanders date back to the date they first applied for registration with the local household registration office, and are based on information provided by the applicant.
While all Chinese nationals not in possession of travel documents issued by the People's Republic of China or British passports (including overseas Chinese with no connection to Taiwan) can apply for a passport issued by the Republic of China (ROC), proper household registration in Taiwan or other islands administered by the ROC is required to obtain a ROC ID Card, which is often used as proof of citizenship in things like national elections, and an ID number is needed to open bank accounts. Unlike in mainland China, residency can be easily changed with the local authorities and household registration does not serve as a tool to limit a resident's movements within Taiwan.
Relation to citizenship
Because both People's Republic of China and Republic of China governments claim the territories under the other's control as part of their respective nation, therefore, legally, both treat the people on the other side's territory as their national. However, citizenship rights are only available to the people under their own control respectively - this is legally defined by law as holding household registration in Taiwan Area (in the Republic of China) / Mainland Area (in the People's Republic of China).
Republic of China considers overseas ethnic Chinese as its national, and issues Republic of China passports to them. However, this does not grant them the right of abode or any other citizen rights in Taiwan - they require the existence of household registration in Taiwan. Those without household registration are subject to immigration control in Taiwan, but after they settle in Taiwan they can establish a household registration there to become a full citizen.
When a person with a household registration in mainland China is settling in Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR by means of a one-way permit, they must relinquish their household registration—therefore losing citizen rights in mainland China. However, they can settle in the SAR for seven years to be eligible for permanent resident status (which is associated with citizen rights) in the SAR. Therefore, in the period before they get permanent resident status, though still a Chinese citizen, they can't exercise citizen rights anywhere (like voting in elections, getting a passport) and are considered second-class citizens.
Special administrative regions
Hukou is not employed in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, though identification cards are mandatory for residents there. Instead, both SARs grant right of abode to certain persons who are allowed to reside permanently in the regions.
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