Household registration reform and peri-urban precarity in China

Smith, N. R. (2014). Living on the edge: household registration reform and peri-urban precarity in China. Journal of Urban Affairs. doi: 10.1111/juaf.12107

China’s household registration system divides the nation into urban and rural populations, conditioning life chances and producing widespread inequity. Recent reform experiments in Chongqing have met with mixed success, as many residents have declined to convert to urban registration. This article ethnographically investigates the rationales and strategies of residents in Hailong, a village in Chongqing where residents were reluctant to participate in household registration reform. For Hailong residents, the state-sponsored welfare offered through urban registration was perceived as a source of exploitation and precarity. In search of stability, Hailong residents developed informal welfare strategies, including mutual support networks and economic diversification. By forcing residents to give up their land rights and adopt urban roles, household registration reform threatened these informal strategies. The article concludes by exploring the policy implications of this analysis, including the possibility of developing formal welfare programs that complement—rather than replace—informal strategies.


Monique Abud

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

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