Global Times: who needs an urban hukou anyway?

Illustration from Global Times

Following-up on our various discussions about the hukou systems and about rural-to-urban migration and questions about rural migrants seeking access to urban space (as opposed, say, to an urban hukou itself), the Global Times recently published an editorial claiming that obtaining an urban hukou was no longer a primary goal among rural university students.

Going to university in the city used to be a golden ticket for students from rural areas who were looking to shift their hukou (residence permit) to an urban area. As soon as they enrolled at a city university, they could move their residence and become entitled to basic welfare and State-provided services that are usually better in urban areas than in rural communities. This could continue if they could secure a job at a State-owned institution or firm.

Recently, however, more and more rural students are refusing to transfer their hukou to urban areas at the start of their studies. Why has an urban hukou suddenly become less attractive?

Their answer to this question emphasizes the rural development and modernization gains resulting from the Socialist Countryside campaign:  “subsidizing seed and machinery purchases and no longer requiring harvest quotas or agricultural taxes. For residents who hold a rural household registration, the key benefits are a grant of arable land, demolition compensation and year-end dividends. ”  If rural college students transfer their hukou, the editorial warns, they’ll miss out on these great benefits!  The editorial then goes on to argue that obtaining urban hukou is more about achieving a certain kind of identity than about achieving actual benefits, and if people just realized that there weren’t that many benefits to be had in China’s cities anymore, they would stop striving for an urban identity.

The editorial is interesting in a number of ways.  First, we know that one of the key tenets of the New Socialist Countryside campaign is to encourage educated peasants to remain in the countryside where their expertise can benefit their local communities, rather than seeking their fortunes in the cities.  The Global Times editorial can thus be read as an attempt to shore-up that broader goal.   Second, it is interesting to consider the editorial in light of the continuing problems that rural residents experience with land grabs.  That the countryside now enjoys the kinds of benefits claimed in the editorial (demolition compensation, for example) would be news to the residents of Yilong Village in Guangdong, who rioted last weekend in protest of a land grab by Jinrui Industrial Park.

While the editorial can thus be viewed as ‘propaganda’, it’s also reflective of the state’s efforts to address the ongoing problems that the countryside continues to face.  Those efforts seem to amount to simply trying to convince people that “things aren’t as bad in the countryside as you may think” and “the cities aren’t any better!”

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2 Responses to Global Times: who needs an urban hukou anyway?

  1. Ashley Bernal says:

    Changing your Hukou used to be such a big deal in China. It was all about the central government making people stay out of the costly urban cities. With this in mind I can’t help but think back to our test essay question on the balance between local autonomies and the central authority. If you consider the benefits that the author talks about (I.e. compensation and health insurance) it can be seen as the central authority being ahead in this leg of the balancing game. Assuming that productivity is still one of the main goals of China, the central authority would want people to still stay in their own Hukou and out of the ever-growing costly urban cities. So giving better benefits to the rural communities while making the urban benefits more costly and harder to obtain would certainly do that. 

    As for the hunt for identity that the author talks about, migrant workers are increasingly lost in China. What I mean is that these people leave their Hukou in search of greater things for their family but once they get to the urban city they are the first to get fired from a job, if they are hurt on the job or off they don’t get and compensation or medical help, and the cost of living in these overcrowded cities is so high that they have nothing better to do than to go back to their rural area that they should never have left. But what makes them unhappy with the choice of being a rural vs. urban person?

    I think that with the shift of power that is now the central government, people don’t know whether to pursue a new life like they strived for in the past or to be happy with their own benefits in their homeland. For so long these rural people have had to deal with choices being made for them without their consent and they’ve been forced into one lifestyle without any say. Now that they’ve been given benefits that they can reasonably live with, they don’t know what to do with themselves before. They indeed are in search of an identity if only they would realize that the right identity they should have is the one they were born into. 

  2. Pingback: Joshua Muldavin on China’s rural land grabs: the shaky foundation to our collective future | geography3822

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