When Du Yumeng was born in December 2005, she was probably not aware that she
had been classified into a different category from other babies - a category
which includes people toting wheelbarrows of fresh fruit, selling steamed buns
from a corner booth or peddling phone cards. They all share one thing in common
- a rural 'hukou', or household registration.
A resident from Yichang, Hubei
Province, shows the household register in this undated file photo. The
household registration system, or hukou, has become an obstacle to the
development of market economy, experts said. [newsphoto]
up in 1958 in order to control mass urbanization, China's hukou
system effectively divides the population in two - 'the haves' (urban
households) and 'the have not's' (rural households).
Under the system, rural citizens have little access to social welfare in
cities and are restricted from receiving public services such as education,
medical care, housing and employment, regardless of how long they may have lived
or worked in the city.
Even though Yumeng's parents had been working in Beijing for 10 years, she
had to be born back in her father's hometown of Shuangfeng Village, Anhui
Province. This was primarily due to her parents' lack of access to services in
Beijing and the need for a birth permit from Shuangfeng, where the hukou is
Aged 31, Yumeng's father, Du Shujian, receives a monthly income of 2,000 yuan
($250 dollars) as an interior construction worker. He has been deprived of urban
medical and social welfare ever since he arrived in Beijing 10 years ago.
What's more, because of the restrictions of the hukou system, Du is
prohibited from buying an affordable house in Beijing - you need a Beijing hukou
"I have decorated so many apartments for Beijing citizens, but I don't know
when I can have my own," Du said.
"And my daughter - I feel sorry for her as she had no choice but to have the
same rural hukou as me, though she is too young now to know what it means for
Local police help migrant workers
with their temporary residency at a job market in Shenyang, Northeast
China's Liaoning Province last week.
The evidence of China's economic success is clear for anybody to see, with a
forest of construction cranes permeating almost every major city. This however,
has only exacerbated the problem of urbanization, by drawing more and more rural
dwellers off their farms and into the city in search of a better life.
The subsequent expansion of the service industry in the cities, in line with
the expanding middle class, has created a vacuum in the secondary sectors that
rural laborers hope to fill.
Government figures estimate that there are about 120 million migrant workers
who have moved to cities in search of work, though the real figure could be much
Beijing has borne the brunt of this mass urbanization as the city spawns
building after building in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. A growing number
of migrants like Du who relocate to find better jobs here tend to stay longer or
even resettle with their entire families.
A study by the Renmin University of China revealed that this 'floating
population' in Beijing, currently stands at over 3.5 million, with most staying
an average of five years in the city.
As China is struggling with the social effects of a widening rural-urban
divide, there have been growing calls to reform the hukou system, owing to the
fact that millions of farmers have illegally started moving to towns and cities
in order to find work.
In a week-long poll conducted in March by website Sina.com and the China
Youth Daily social survey centre, 92 per cent of the 11,168 respondents said
that the system was in need of reform.
More than 53 per cent said restrictive policies attached to the system, such
as limits on access to education, healthcare, employment and social insurance
should be eliminated. More than 38 per cent called for the system to be scrapped
"Hukou has played an important role as a basic data provider and for
identification registration in certain historical periods, but it has become
neither scientific nor rational given the irresistible trend of migration,"
Professor Duan Chengrong, director of the Research Center for Population and
Development at the Renmin University of China, said.
At a national public security conference on March 29, officials from the
Ministry of Public Security proposed a way to deal with the inequalities across
Chinese society and bridge the divide.
The conference suggested eliminating the two-tiered
household registration system and to allow freer migration between the cities
and the countryside.