The end of the hukou system?

Goodburn, Charlotte (2014). The end of the hukou system? Not yet. China Policy Institute Policy Paper, 2. 7 p. Retrieved 9 September 2014 from:

The July 2014 Chinese State Council circular on the “end of the hukou (household registration) system” has been greeted by a mixture of jubilation and scepticism in the press. The abolition of the distinction between rural and urban Chinese citizens, which has existed since the 1950s, is historic, and may be of symbolic importance, but much of the rest of the policy announcement is neither new nor likely to benefit most current and prospective rural-urban migrants. Real hukou reform will be difficult and costly, and remains a long way off.

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Hukou reform: Beijing abolishes “agricultural” residence class, but rural-urban split remains. China Economic Review, 8 September 2014. Retrieved 9 Sptember 2014 from:

When China’s State Council announced in late July that it would end the official division of Chinese residents into rural and urban, it ended a practice that for almost six decades represented the worst of the country’s oft-decried residence permit, or hukou, system. When introduced in the late 50’s the restrictive policy bifurcated Chinese into an urban minority with government-provided benefits and a rural majority expected to feed both cities and itself.

Today over half of China’s population already lives in the cities. A blueprint for the country’s urbanization announced in March plans for 60% of the population to be urban by 2020, meaning another 100 million Chinese will move to cities. The plan also calls for 45% of the population to have urban hukou, meaning another 250 million once-rural residents will need to be registered in cities. This would theoretically entitle them to better benefits in areas such as health care and education.

The State Council provided general guidelines in its recent announcement on how the central government wants urbanization to proceed: few to no residency rules for those migrating to smaller cities, and increasingly stringent requirements as urban populations pass the 1 and 3 million marks. Cities with over 5 million people can use a “points” system to decide who is accorded residence, a practice already used by larger cities like Beijing that weeds out the vast majority of hukou hopefuls in favor of high-earning or highly educated applicants.

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Cite this blog post
Monique Abud (2014, September 11). The end of the hukou system? URBACHINA. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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