News / Asia

China’s Hukou System Faces Increased Scrutiny

Chinese students wait to take an annual college entrance examinations.  Many more would if not for the Hukou system.
Chinese students wait to take an annual college entrance examinations. Many more would if not for the Hukou system.
Sarah Williams
Two recent cases in China have sparked renewed debate about the country’s hukou system. The hukou is a residency permit used to minimize the movement of people between rural and urban areas.  

The hukou can determine the course of a person’s life by assigning where Chinese will live, work and be educated.

“It was developed during the days of the state-planned economy, where urban workers were connected with a danwei, or sort of a work unit, that provided most social services,” said Angela Merriam, senior policy analyst at China Policy in Beijing. “Rural residents, land owners, and farmers were organized into cooperatives that looked after their health care, education, etc.”

But Merriam said China’s tremendous evolution into a global economic power in the past few decades now makes the hukou an anachronism.

China has pledged to speed up reform of its hukou system as part of its urbanization drive. The Wall Street Journal reports the country’s top economic-planning agency, the   National Development and Reform Commission, has promised to speed up household registration reform.

The Hukou and Children

Merriam said the hukou system creates special problems for children.

One group is composed of youngsters who accompany their parents to urban areas.

Recently 15-year-old Zhan Haite, who has lived in Shanghai since she was four, was told she could not continue in high school, or take the gaokao - the college entrance exam - because she does not possess a local hukou.

“These children are more likely to be middle class, and there’s a lot of concern with educational equity in terms of access to the high quality education provided in public schools in these urban centers,” said Merriam.

Another case involves the so-called “left behind children” who are not able to join their parents when they move to seek greater economic opportunities outside their home area. The higher school fees charged to migrant’s children, who don’t have local hukous, often prevent parents from taking them to their new location.

The tragic deaths of five cousins, who perished in a dumpster recently in China’s southern Guizhou province illustrates this problem. The boys died carbon-monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire to keep out the cold. Their deaths sparked an outcry on the Internet.

“I think that case resonated so much with the public because many people in China feel real effects with the hukou system on their daily lives,” Merriam said. “They’ve left their children behind or they see left-behind children like Zhan Haite, who are unable to access the same level of education as urban residents.”

The controversies are causing a re-evaluation of the hukou system on education. China’s State Council recently suggested that more students be allowed to take the gaokao - or college entrance exam - in their place of residence, rather than return to their place of hukou. 

But such changes have yet to be adopted in China’s two largest cities. “Some local governments are implementing these suggestions, they’re allowing more migrants to take the university placement test in the place where they live,” said Merriam. “But major cities like Beijing and Shanghai are not doing so.”

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs