[Editor's Note: I'm grateful to Carl Minzner, author of the China Law and Politics blog, for permitting the reposting of his analysis below. His post represents a scarce example in modern Chinese Studies of a laudable skepticism towards a claim, the import of which, if unquestioned, would have lead to an unfounded assumption regarding Chinese life, law and government.
The claim is that Yunnan Province will eliminate the hukou (??) registration system, a development which, if true, would signal changes of significant magnitude in the administration of population movement, benefits distribution, registration for schooling and the like. What is the hukou system? Briefly,
China's hukou system has imposed strict limits on ordinary Chinese citizens changing their permanent place of residence since it was instituted in the 1950s.
Hukou registration, as a system of government control, has changed since that time, but it has not been eliminated. Fei-ling Wang's testimony to Congress in 2005 provides an excellent survey for those interest in reading on it. Carl's other posts on the subject are also worth reading for background: Is The Hukou System Really Disappearing? and Hukou Reforms Under Consideration.
Mr. Minzner is Associate Professor of Law, Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, and formerly Senior Counsel to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.]
Is Yunnan “Eliminating” the Hukou System?
Short answer – no. At least one website has reported that recent reforms undertaken by the provincial government of Yunnan will “eliminate” the household registration (hukou) system. This isn’t the case.
The announced Yunnan reforms will eliminate the distinction between “agricultural” and “non-agricultural” hukou status, according to an October 25 Xinhua article. Similar reforms have been announced by a number of other provinces and municipalities. But they do not affect the requirement that migrants obtain local hukou in urban areas to receive public services and benefits on an equal basis with other urban residents.
The proposed Yunnan reforms will require migrants to urban areas to have a “fixed place of living” and a “stable source of income” in order to shift their hukou registration to an urban area. According to the Xinhua article, the Yunnan reforms define “fixed place of living” as property ownership of a home in an urban area, or possession of one allocated by one’s work unit prior to 1995. How many rural migrants satisfy that condition?
The Yunnan reforms actually look almost identical in content to those announced by dozens of other provinces and municipalities. For more information, see these posts (Is The Hukou System Really Disappearing?, Hukou Reforms Under Consideration), the topic paper of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), and this list of similar reforms.
There is one interesting aspect of the Yunnan reforms. According to the Xinhua report, they define “stable source of income” as the ability to support oneself without resort to government minimum standard of living subsidies. Other local reforms I’ve seen define the term as professional employment or ownership of a business. The Yunnan reforms would seem to adopt a relatively less restrictive definition of this term. This may reflect new policy directions announced by Chinese central authorities over the summer.
The Guest Analysis: Yunnan Province and the Hukou Registration System by AsiaBizBlog, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.