Archive for ‘Household registration’


A slow awakening | The Economist

AROUND 270m people have left China’s countryside to work in urban areas, many of them entrusting their children to the care of a lone parent, grandparents, relatives or other guardians.

By 2010 there were 61m of these “left-behind children”, according to the All-China Women’s Federation. In a directive released on February 14th, the government has at last shown that it recognises the problems caused by the splintering of so many families. The document acknowledges that there has been a “strong reaction” from the public to the plight of affected children. It describes improving their lot as “urgent”.

That is clearly right. There have been numerous stories in recent years revealing the horrors some of these children endure. Last year four siblings left alone in the south-western province of Guizhou apparently committed suicide by drinking pesticide. Numerous sex-abuse cases involving left-behind children have come to light.

The new proposals look sensible enough: minors may not be abandoned entirely; local institutions such as schools and hospitals must do more to notify the authorities of cases of abuse or neglect; social workers should monitor the welfare of left-behind children. Sadly, however, the government’s suggested remedies will achieve little. They largely replicate recent laws and policies designed to protect children (not just left-behind ones), which have been almost universally unenforced. It is already illegal to allow minors to live alone, for example. There is no indication that the new recommendations will be made law or implemented any more rigorously.

The new scheme mentions the importance of giving migrants urban hukou, or household-registration certificates, which are needed to gain access to public services such as education and health care. Most migrants leave their children in the countryside because they do not have such papers. In December the government announced plans to make it easier for migrants to gain urban hukou privileges. But few casual labourers are likely to fulfil the still-onerous conditions that must be met to qualify.

A study published last year by researchers at Stanford University found that among more than 140,000 children assessed in areas such as education, health and nutrition, left-behind ones performed as well as or better than those living in the countryside with both parents. But both kinds of children lagged far behind those who grow up in cities.

Source: A slow awakening | The Economist


China’s Young Migrant Workers Earn More, Send Less Home – Businessweek

China’s younger migrant workers are better educated, spend more, save less, and prefer living in China’s bigger cities. They make up close to one-half of the migrant workforce, according to a survey released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

A migrant worker in Beijing

Those from the younger generation, born after 1980—or balinghou (literally, “80 after”)—number 125 million, or 46.6 percent of China’s 269 million migrant workers. One-third have a high school education or higher; that’s 19.2 percentage points more than the older generation, the survey shows.

Unlike their parents, they aren’t inclined to scrimp devotedly in order to send  hard-earned kuai back to the countryside. The average younger migrant worker remitted 12,802 yuan ($2,054) to a hometown in rural China; that’s about 30 percent less than older workers did.

via China’s Young Migrant Workers Earn More, Send Less Home – Businessweek.

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China Wants Its People in the Cities – Reuters


Thirty-five years ago, when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping launched gaige kaifang, or “reform and opening,” China was a much more agricultural country, with less than a fifth of its people living in cities. Since then hundreds of millions of rural residents have left the countryside, many seeking jobs in the export-oriented factories and construction sites that Deng’s policy promoted.

Commercial and residential buildings stand in the Luohu district of Shenzhen, China, on Dec. 18, 2013 In 1978 there were no Chinese cities with more than 10 million people and only two with 5 million to 10 million; by 2010, six cities had more than 10 million and 10 had from 5 million to 10 million. By the following year, a majority of Chinese were living in urban areas for the first time in the country’s history.

Now urbanization has been designated a national priority and is expected to occur even more rapidly. On March 16, Premier Li Keqiang’s State Council and the central committee of the Communist Party released the “National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020),” which sets clear targets: By 2020 the country will have 60 percent of its people living in cities, up from 53.7 percent now.

What’s the ultimate aim of creating a much more urban country? Simply put, all those new, more free-spending urbanites are expected to help drive a more vibrant economy, helping wean China off its present reliance on unsustainable investment-heavy growth. “Domestic demand is the fundamental impetus for China’s development, and the greatest potential for expanding domestic demand lies in urbanization,” the plan says.

To get there, China’s policymakers know they have to loosen the restrictive hukou, the household registration policy that today keeps many Chinese migrants second-class urban residents. China will ensure that the proportion of those who live in the cities with full urban hukou, which provides better access to education, health care, and pensions, will rise from last year’s level of 35.7 percent of city dwellers to 45 percent by 2020. That means 100 million rural migrant workers, out of a total 270 million today, will have to be given urban household registration.

To prepare for the new masses, China knows it must vastly expand urban infrastructure. The plan calls for ensuring that expressways and railways link all cities with more than 200,000 people by 2020; high-speed rail is expected to link cities with more than a half million by then. Civil aviation will expand to be available to 90 percent of the population.

Access to affordable housing projects funded by the government is also expected to rise substantially. The target is to provide social housing (roughly analogous to public housing in the U.S.) to 23 percent of the urban populace by 2020; that’s up from an estimated 14.3 percent last year, according to Tao Wang, China economist at UBS Securities (UBS) in Hong Kong. That means providing social housing for an additional 90 million people, amounting to about 30 million units, over the next seven years, Wang writes in a March 18 report.

The urbanization plan appears to face several big challenges. First, the government wants to maintain restrictions on migration to China’s biggest cities, which also happen to be its most popular. Instead, the plan calls for liberalizing migration to small and midsize cities, or those with less than 5 million. Whether migrants will willingly flock to designated smaller cities, rather than the megacities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, is an unanswered question.

Another obstacle to faster urbanization is that the plan doesn’t propose how to reform China’s decades-old land tenure system. Changing the system could allow farmers more freedom to mortgage, rent, or sell their land.

Finally, one of the most daunting problems is figuring out how to pay for implementing the ambitious urbanization targets. The cost of rolling out a much more extensive social welfare network will be substantial (today, most Chinese in the countryside have far lower levels of medical and pension coverage, as well as far inferior schools); building the new urban infrastructure will also be expensive.


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China’s New Migrant Workers Want More

BusinessWeek: “The red neon sign over the front door of a new entertainment complex in Beijing’s suburban Daxing district—a local garment manufacturing hub—reads simply “The Skating Rink.” Inside, Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” crackles over loudspeakers, and a strobe light casts red and green pixels of light across a hardwood floor. The young migrant workers who toil in the garment factories nearby typically work on weekends, and have only two or three days off a month. So a crowd begins to form only in the evenings, after overtime shifts end around 9 or 10 p.m.

Twenty-one-year-old He XiaoJie (right) lives in a five-person dorm room within his factory

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the rink has just a handful of early skaters. Among them is a family of five. (Many migrant families manage to disregard China’s one-child policy.) Pudgy 3-year-old Zhefang, wearing a yellow sundress and short pigtails, tugs playfully on the laces of her 5-year-old brother’s skates. Her other brother, who is 9, races full speed around the rink. Juping and Xinfing, the parents, are both 29 and moved here from Jiangxi province seven years ago. Today is one of the precious few days all year that they are together as a family. Because the parents lack a Beijing hukou—or residence permit—they cannot enroll their children in local schools. The two boys now live with their grandparents back in Jiangxi. Xinfing says she “really wants our girl to stay with us” once Zhefang reaches school age, but knows it’s not likely. She scoops up the little girl in her arms and lovingly pats down stray hairs that have shaken loose of her pigtails.

China’s great modern migration from countryside to city began roughly 30 years ago. Starting in the 1980s, new factories in southeastern China began to churn out goods for export and lured workers who could make more on the assembly line than on the farm. In the 1980s and ’90s, most of those who left home were young single people, like the women described in Leslie Chang’s book, Factory Girls. A majority of migrants expected to work for a few years, save money, and eventually return to their hometowns. However, in recent years this pattern has notably shifted. Government planning documents refer to migrants born after 1980 as “new generation migrant workers,” and recent reports from China’s National Bureau of Statistics show how they differ from their predecessors. Just as Juping and Xinfing moved to Beijing as a married couple with a young child in tow, several studies show that a majority of migrant workers now move with at least one other family member.

Beijing’s Daxing district lies outside the Sixth Ring Road, a 90-minute drive from the city center. The local government has made a push to attract garment factories ranging in size from those with a few hundred employees to those with less than a dozen. The workers who come here are mostly in their late teens and twenties. Like previous generations, they have come to start a new life with little savings and a lot of gumption. But they are more tech-savvy, fashion-conscious, and educated than their parents. Most significant, they expect to integrate permanently into city life—putting more urgent pressure on the government to change China’s current system of allocating social services (including schooling and health care) only to those with difficult-to-obtain city residence permits.

In his recent book, China’s Urban Billion, analyst Tom Miller of GK Dragonomics writes, “Surveys show that the majority of the new generation of migrant workers [have] no intention of returning to the penury of rural life.” In explaining the attitudinal shift, he notes: “They are significantly better educated than their parents, and usually adapt far more quickly to urban ways. They hope to become fully fledged urban citizens and enjoy a modern consumer lifestyle.””

via China’s New Migrant Workers Want More – Businessweek.


China Moves on Reforming Hukou?

BusinessWeek: “Is China finally ready to make some serious progress on reforming its restrictive household registration or hukou policy? That’s the decades-old residency system that gives all Chinese an official status as either urban or rural (as indicated in a small red passbook). On June 26, China’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission announced in a report on urbanization that “the government should gradually tear down household registration obstacles to facilitate the orderly migration of people from rural to urban areas,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Residential buildings in Beijing

To date, the hukou system has not only discriminated against hundreds of millions of Chinese, making it difficult for them to live comfortable lives in cities, it has also been an obstacle to Beijing’s desire to reorient towards a more domestic consumption-driven economy. Even though China became a country with an urban majority in 2011, some 230 million of those now living in the cities still have a rural hukou. That means they do not have access to the same healthcare and education benefits as other urbanites, and often can’t purchase apartments or even get a driver’s license. As a result, most end up being big savers, in preparation for an eventual move back to the countryside—not the free-spending Chinese necessary for Beijing’s rebalancing policy to succeed.

The latest proposal by the NDRC is part of a larger package of policies now being drafted, aimed at pushing faster urbanization in China. The commission’s recommendation for hukou reform however appears fairly modest. Rather than allowing the free flow of people to all of China’s urban areas, it instead allows rural residents the right to first get residency in smaller cities. That is a good first step.”

via China Moves on Reforming Hukou? – Businessweek.

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Urbanisation: Some are more equal than others

The Economist: “FOR many migrants who do not live in factory dormitories, life in the big city looks like the neighbourhood of Shangsha East Village: a maze of alleys framed by illegally constructed apartment buildings in the boomtown of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. There are at least 200 buildings, many of them ten storeys tall (see picture). They are separated by only a metre or so, hence the name “handshake buildings”—residents of neighbouring blocks can reach out from their windows and high-five.

The buildings are China’s favelas: built illegally on collectively owned rural land. Rents are cheap. An eight-square-metre (86-square-foot) flat costs less than $100 a month. They symbolise both the success of the government’s urbanisation policy and also its chronic failures. China has managed a more orderly system of urbanisation than many developing nations. But it has done so on the cheap. Hundreds of millions of migrants flock to build China’s cities and manufacture the country’s exports. But the cities have done little to reward or welcome them, investing instead in public services and infrastructure for their native residents only. Rural migrants living in the handshake buildings are still second-class citizens, most of whom have no access to urban health care or to the city’s high schools. Their homes could be demolished at any time.

China’s new leaders now say this must change. But it is unclear whether they have the resolve to force through reforms, most of which are costly or opposed by powerful interests, or both. Li Keqiang, the new prime minister, is to host a national conference this year on urbanisation. The agenda may reveal how reformist he really is.

He will have no shortage of suggestions. An unusually public debate has unfolded in think-tanks, on microblogs and in state media about how China should improve the way it handles urbanisation. Some propose that migrants in cities should, as quickly as possible, be given the same rights to services as urban dwellers. Others insist that would-be migrants should first be given the right to sell their rural plot of land to give them a deposit for their new urban life. Still others say the government must allow more private and foreign competition in state-controlled sectors of the economy such as health care, which would expand urban services for all, including migrants. Most agree the central government must bear much more of the cost of public services and give more power to local governments to levy taxes.

Any combination of these options would be likely to raise the income of migrants, help them to integrate into city life and narrow the gap between the wealthy and the poor, which in China is among the widest in the world. Such reforms would also spur on a slowing economy by boosting domestic consumption.

Officials know, too, that the longer reforms are delayed the greater the chances of social unrest. “It is already a little too late,” Chen Xiwen, a senior rural policy official, said last year of providing urban services to migrants. “If we don’t deal with it now, the conflict will grow so great that we won’t be able to proceed.”

Yet Mr Li, the prime minister, would do well to dampen expectations. The problems of migrants and of income inequality are deeply entrenched in two pillars of discriminatory social policy that have stood since the 1950s and must be dealt with before real change can come: the household registration system, or hukou, and the collective ownership of rural land.”

via Urbanisation: Some are more equal than others | The Economist.

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The real cause and impact of China’s labour shortage

So far this labour shortage has not had a significant impact on the economy. But if ignored, it will.

China Daily Mail

China continues to suffer a labour shortage in its key coastal manufacturing regions. This, no doubt, is impacting U.S. and other foreign companies operating in China. But the labour shortage is not due to a lack of available workers. Instead, it is prompted by Chinese government policies, as well as prevailing work and living conditions in affected regions.

The Alienation of Migrant Workers

During the last two decades of China’s development, rural workers migrating to urban manufacturing regions have been the chief source of labour in coastal cities. According to the Chinese government’s, own statistics, migrant workers have increased to more than 250 million from just over 60 million in the last 20 years. Many non-government organisations place this number at a more realistic 350 to 400 million.

Even with a massive number of workers available nationally, China Daily recently reported that labour shortages are growing worse in cities like Guangzhou

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* Testing time for China’s migrants as they demand access to education

If 1/3 of the population of Beijing consists of migrant workers, then the city authority better watch out. Sooner rather than  later the anger and frustration will erupt into something very violent.  That applies equally to central government unless it reforms the Hukou system that is at least two if not three decades out-of-date.

SCMP: “Dozens of frustrated parents crowded into a Beijing office, surrounding an education official and brandishing copies of the constitution to demand their children be allowed to take an exam.


Mothers and fathers around the world fight to send their children to the best schools they can, in the hopes of drastically improving their futures.

But China’s migrant families are victims of a decade-old residency system that denies urban incomers equal access to advantages from jobs and healthcare to the right to buy a home or car – and education.

Chinese university admission is based on a single test, the “gaokao”.

Cities such as Beijing that host China’s best universities – and large incomer populations – only allow those with official residency permits, or “hukou”, to take their exam and benefit from preferential quotas for places.

Around a third of the capital’s 20 million population are migrants, but many of their families become split by rules requiring their children to go to their “home” provinces – even if they have never lived there – sometimes for years, to study for and take the test, which varies by location.

Even then, because of the quota system they will have to score higher to win places at top schools.

“Either you let the country share in your education resources or you accept the reality that outsiders are stuck in your education gutter,” said Du Guowang, a 12-year Beijing resident from Inner Mongolia.

He and dozens of parents packed Beijing’s education bureau each week hoping – in vain – it would let their children take next year’s exam. But registration closed last week.

“This will directly affect their studies and their future prospects so of course it’s unfair,” said Xu Zhiyong, a prominent legal activist who has assisted the parents.

Over the past three decades more than 230 million people – four times the entire population of Britain – have moved to China’s cities in a phenomenal mass migration.

The hukou system restrictions date back to 1958, when the government sought, among its many controls, to designate where people should farm in rural areas, and work or live for those in towns.

It has loosened the rules in recent decades to encourage urbanisation, and acknowledges the need to better accommodate newcomers – especially as resentment mounts over China’s widening rural-urban inequality.

At a key gathering of the ruling Communist Party last month, President Hu Jintao urged officials to “accelerate” hukou reform and work to “ensure that all permanent urban residents have access to basic urban public services”.

But bigger cities are less willing to share residency or benefits, fearing doing so would burden their already strained resources and spur a new influx.

Some point to congested roads and overcrowded hospitals to argue that cities cannot handle larger loads.

But critics say the system is discriminatory.

Full reform would need years, but should begin sooner to defuse resentment, said Wang Zhenyu, deputy director of a public policy research centre at China University of Political Science and Law.

“From the basics like education and healthcare to social security to employment to buying a home or car, hukou-based discrimination covers every aspect,” he said. “Your hukou will affect you your entire life.””

via Testing time for China’s migrants as they demand access to education | South China Morning Post.


* Guizhou man who broke tragic story of dumpster boys sent on ‘vacation’

Two steps forward, one step back OR is it one step forward , two back?

SCMP: “A former journalist who broke the story of the deaths of five street children in Bijie, Guizhou, a week ago has been sent on “a vacation” by local authorities trying to contain the fallout from the tragedy.

Li Muzi, the son of Li Yuanlong, said his father had been taken away by the authorities at 1pm on Wednesday and put on a plane at Guiyang airport for “a holiday” at a tourist destination he did not want disclosed.

“My father told me he received several phone calls before he was taken away from home,” said Li Muzi, who is studying in the United States. He keeps in contact with his father over the internet and by phone. “Apparently they are trying to prevent him from helping other reporters follow up on the incident.”

Li Yuanlong, a former Bijie Daily reporter, has written four postings on  – a popular online bulletin board on the mainland – since last Friday  detailing the circumstances that led to the five boys’ deaths in a wheeled refuse bin in Bijie’s Qixingguan district that morning.

The victims, all brothers or cousins aged nine to 13, died of carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire in the bin to escape the cold, according to an initial investigation by the city government.

Follow-up reports by mainland media that accused the local authorities of failing to act on parents’ pleas about the five missing boys for more than a week triggered a huge outcry.

Li Muzi said he spoke to his father around 9am yesterday and his father had asked him to delete a microblog entry he had written about  the  disappearance. He said his father was worried it could have a bearing on how long he would be kept away from home.

Li Fangping, a Beijing-based lawyer who has asked the Bijie city government to provide more information on its handling of the  boys before their deaths, said the local authorities had violated the law by  ordering Li Yuanlong’s disappearance.

“It’s the same kind of overkill in the name of stability maintenance that we saw in the lead-up to the Communist Party’s 18th national congress,” he said.

“What we’re seeing now is at odds with the harmonious and beautiful China that new leadership tries to project to the world.””

via Guizhou man who broke tragic story of dumpster boys sent on ‘vacation’ | South China Morning Post.

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* Hu’s calls on household registration reform face opposition

As usual, local authorities go against national strategy and interests.

SCMP: “President Hu Jintao’s calls for faster reforms to the out-of-date household registration system face strong resistance from local government officials, the Jinghua Times reported on Monday.


Household registration, or hukou, which covers every family in mainland China, records people as either town dwellers or rural peasants. Many blame it for causing discrimination against peasants who move to cities, where their identity prevents them from gaining access to services like health care and education for their children.

At the 18th party congress, which continues this week in Beijing, Hu has called for faster reform of the registration system and expanded public welfare coverage for all citizens, whatever their household origin.

But scholars say the reform effort is encountering strong opposition from local government officials, because it would unleash financially ruinous demands for social welfare spending, the Jinghua Times newspaper said.

Hu Xingdou, a professor of economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the state council has issued several orders for reforms since 2001, but they were blocked by fierce resistance at the local government level.

Reforms bring heavy financial pressure on local governments, says agricultural economics scholar Zheng Fengtian. The social welfare costs needed to cover tens of millions of rural migrants, when they arrive in big cities, are too heavy for local governments to handle, he said.

A blue paper from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences forecasts that 500 million peasants will move from the countryside to the mainland’s cities within the next 20 years. Including them in social welfare programmes will cost between 40 trillion and 50 trillion yuan (HK$49 trillion and HK$62 trillion), it estimates.

This situation will be especially intense in coastal regions, where the mobile population will surpass the number of city residents, Zheng added.

Professor Hu said market mechanisms would solve the problems that concern local officials. “When [rural migrants] find cities overcrowded, and the unemployment rate and housing prices too high, they will eventually leave the cities,” he said.

He warned that delaying reforms will only increase the risks, saying “what matters most is the central government’s determination on reform”.

There are currently 271 million people in the mainland who are not living in the location of their household registration, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Dang Guoying, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said “without proper reform of household registration, peasants cannot benefit from urbanisation, which will intensify social disparities and eventually bring stagnation to China’s development”.”

via Hu’s calls on household registration reform face opposition | South China Morning Post.

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