Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Friday, March 26, 2010

The famous hukou editorial

On March 1, "[a] group of 13 Chinese newspapers from across the country carried an identical front-page editorial ... calling for the abolition of China’s household registration hukou system in a highly unusual co-ordinated critique of government policy." (Jamil Anderlini, "Call to end China citizen registration system," Financial Times, March 1, 2010) It seems, however, that appropriate advance permission had not been obtained. According to the South China Morning Post, "all the publications involved and most major internet news portals have removed the editorial or reports of it from their websites. According to an editor of another media outlet that ran the editorial, the verdict from the Central Publicity Department was brief: 'This act was inappropriate'." Moreover, the same article reported that "[e]ditors at The Economic Observer, the newspaper which initiated a joint editorial published on Monday criticising the mainland's hukou (household registration) system, have been punished for their bold action as other participating media confirmed a government order to remove the editorial from their websites."

Further reports:

It seems that the text of the editorial is still up on some web sites; here it is (available as of today) on the web site of the Chongqing Times (重庆时报). On the assumption that it would be nice to have a reliable source for both Chinese and English versions, however, I'm posting the original and a translation (the author of which has asked to remain anonymous). I'll post the English first, with the Chinese text following.

A Call for Accelerated Reforms to the Household Registration System to Truly Grant Rights to the People

China has long tasted the bitterness of its household registration system! Conceived in the planned economy era, it is an outdated system that has existed for decades and continues to disrupt the people's livelihoods today. It has, without sufficient reforms, ceased being relevant. To this end, on the occasion of the convening of the national "Two Sessions" , we,  the 13 newspapers from 11 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, are issuing a joint editorial and submitting it to the representatives and committee members of the “Two Sessions.” We ask that you use the power in your hands to urge the relevant ministries and commissions to put forward a clear time table for household registration reform; and, to gradually use the demographic information registration system to replace the existing rigid household registration system until it is completely abolished.

The Constitution stipulates that the citizens of the People's Republic of China are all equal before the law, that the nation respects and protects human rights, and that the citizens’ personal freedoms will not be infringed upon. Freedom of movement is an inseparable component of human rights and personal freedom; it is a basic right that the Constitution bestowed the people. However, the current household registration policy has created unequal statuses among urban residents and between urban residents and peasants, constraining the Chinese citizens’ freedom of movement. Alllaws and administrative and local regulations must not contradict the Constitution – this is the legal basis for accelerating the current reforms of the  household registration system.

The household registration system has divided cities and countryside. The first generation of migrant workers invested their labor into the development of the cities. However, their offspring still have no means to resolve the status of their identities. Their children still have to bear the quandary of the previous generation. The cities in which they live remain unable to accept them. We have to ask: for how many more generations must this divide last?

Even within the cities, the household registration system has divided urban residents. In the same city, even though we, like all others,  have struggled for many years for the construction of the city and paid the same taxes, the absence of hukous has rendered us unable  to enjoy the same employment opportunities as others, or the same social services such as medical treatment, education, and elderly care. We have to ask: for how many more generations must this divide last?

The household registration system is a breeding ground for corruption. Because of its scarcity,  hukous have become the objects of buying and selling in many cities. Those with holders’ rights can use them to seek payment; real-estate agents can use them as sales tools. But the countless people who are vulnerable must either pay the money or find themselves without recourse. We  have to ask: for how many more generations must this inequality  last?

Not long ago, Premier Wen Jiabao clearly expressed that the central government had already decided to steadily advance household registration reform. And dozens of other cities nationwide, including Shanghai and Guangzhou, have already launched household registration reform measures. Residential permits are slowly replacing temporary residential permits in these cities, and holders will be able to enjoy the same public services such as social security, medical treatment, and education as local residents. At the same time, the country is accelerating the establishment of a unified national social security services system, bringing about the inter-regional transfer and continuation of social security networks...

Admittedly, progress is gratifying, but in many more areas, we are still disappointed to note the invisible and heavy shackles of household registration, distressing the innumerable hard-pressed people on the run. We are deeply aware of the complicated nature of the household registration policy and the intricate complexities of the details of reform.  Yet, we cannot overlook those who have experienced, are experiencing, and will experience oppression and hardship as a consequence of this policy.  For them, awaiting urgent reforms has made every minute of waiting seem endless.

As China's economy soars, we must also be mindful of the pressing imminence of the economy’s structural transformations. The demographic dividend is fading away, and natural resources will not be available forever. The power behind China's next stage of growth has already begun to point even more so to the adjustment of the internal structure and the optimization of efficient usage of natural resources. Household registration reform is not only good for the people's welfare; it can also inject more dynamism into China's economy. More important, household registration reform can help foster values and ideas centered around people, becoming the cornerstone of making balanced progress in  Chinese society and constructing a harmonious society.

For this reason, we call on representatives and committee members of the national "Two Sessions" to use the power in your hands – power that the people gave you – to urge the relevant ministries and commissions to abolish, as soon as possible, the "Household Registration Regulations" issued in 1958; to put forward a clear time table for national household registration reform; and, to  gradually use the demographic information records system to replace the current rigid household registration system until it is completely abolished.

We hope that our many citizens, whether   they are rooted in the north or south without dividing  them into urban and rural, will all have the same rights to employment, medical treatment, elderly care, education, and freedom of movement. We hope that the one thing that has suffered from many decades of   failed administration will end with this generation, our generation, and enable the next one to truly enjoy the sacred rights of freedom, democracy, and equality bestowed by the Constitution.











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