“Shifting Barriers” Editorial, The Economist, Dec. 19, 2015

“The pillars of social control are flaking at the edges. First came the relaxation in October of draconian family-planning restrictions. Now it is the turn of the household-registration, or hukou system, which determines whether a person may enjoy subsidised public services in urban areas.”

A big shake-up has been occurring in China as many of the state-mandated social controls are starting to crumble. The next institution to fall victim to change is hukou, China’s household-registration system. The new decision is set to allow migrant workers who travel from rural communities to work in the cities to receive the benefits of an urban hukou --social services like schooling, healthcare and access to public housing and cars. The change will affect the 70 million children left behind in their native villages to attend school. Also, it will allow migrants to enjoy urban services without losing the rural hukou which permits them to farm a plot of land. As with the two-child policy, though, there is less here than meets the eye. Most migrants don’t have labour or tenancy contracts, which is one of the requirements to receive an urban hukou. Schools might not be able to handle the influx of students as well. There are other catches too. In cities ranging from 500,000 to 1 million people, migrants will have had to contribute to the government’s social insurance scheme for a minimum of three years. As for the biggest cities, the reforms don’t really apply to them, because they already suffer from excess population and insufficient social services capacity. Needless to say, the reform doesn’t help the people without any hukou, which disproportionately affects the so called “black children” of China --those born in contravention to the one child policy. President Xi Jinping said that anyone without a hukou could obtain one. But it is unclear what kind of hukou they would receive, and if they would still be penalized for having violated the family-planning policy. Despite its stated intent of helping all Chinese citizens receive basic social rights, many will still be left behind, as the reform doesn’t apply to everybody.

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“Shifting Barriers” Editorial, The Economist, Dec. 19, 2015


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