Hukou Reform Experiment Begins in Guangzhou

May 19, 2010

China's hukou (household registration) system imposes strict limits on where Chinese citizens may obtain legal residence. Limited reforms, however, are currently taking place in Guangzhou city, Guangdong province. Guangzhou's Public Security Bureau has directed various levels of city officials, starting in May 2010, to begin implementing a hukou reform experiment, originally proposed last summer, to phase out the rural and non-rural hukou distinctions over the next five years. In addition, the mayor of another major city, Chongqing, announced on May 5 that hukou reform will be among his top priorities.

The Legal Daily reported on May 4, 2010, that Guangzhou's Public Security Bureau had directed district- and county-level party committees and governments to begin implementing an experiment, officially proposed last summer, to gradually transform its hukou registration system into one that will simply identify residents as holders of Guangzhou's "residential hukous"―an experiment intended to phase out the existing rural and non-rural distinctions. The changes are expected to take five years, and the Legal Daily explains that the process will "gradually reform the various kinds of policies of differentiation that accompanied the [old] hukou system."

The Guangzhou government originally launched the reform experiment in July 2009 with the release of the Implementing Opinion Regarding the Advancing of Urban-Rural Hukou System Reforms. A July 30 Southern Daily article (via Xinhua) reported at the time that the changes would commence within one year at the earliest. The government's reform plans, once they begin, will move forward separately for rural and non-rural hukou holders, and the speed and method of the changes will depend on a resident's existing registration status.

Specifically, for holders of rural hukous, the city government will grant unified residential hukous in the following ways:

  • In Nansha and Luogang Districts, rural hukou holders will receive unified hukous within one year;
  • in Baiyun, Panyu, and Huadu Districts, the timeline will be within three years;
  • and
  • in county-level cities Zengcheng and Conghua, the timeline will be within five years.

For holders of non-rural hukous, the document states that all residents in Guangzhou's 10 administrative districts and 2 county-level cities will receive "residential hukous" within one year.

According to unnamed experts cited in the Legal Daily article, the core question surrounding the reforms is how to achieve "equal identities" for all residents, since even when unified hukous are issued, many migrant workers will continue to face difficulties because "various accompanying policies" still need to be reformed. The article says that there will be a "transitional phase" for officials to closely monitor the migrants' adjustments in the city―which means that, even in their new unified hukous, migrants will continue to have special markers so that various government departments, such as social security, employment, and population planning, can apply the appropriate policies for them. The article did not, however, mention how long the "transitional phase" would last.

Without offering a timeline, the Guangzhou government's document indicates that identity cards will replace hukous as the "core identification system" of the new "social management method." China Radio International said in an April 30 article that "a dedicated ID card administrative body and an ID database will be set up to record various details of residents, including employment, marriage, credit, and social security."

Aside from the reforms in Guangzhou, a May 6 Chongqing News article reported that the Mayor of Chongqing, Huang Qifan, announced on May 5 that hukou reform will be one of his six top reform priorities for this year, stating that the city will "comprehensively push forth hukou reform" and "perfect the supporting system and accompanying policies." In a related development, since December 25, 2009, the government of Dalian city in Liaoning province has granted over 400,000 "permanent residence permits" to migrant workers who formerly held "temporary residence permits," enabling them to enjoy the same rights and benefits―such as social insurance, education for their children, and employment services―that other residents already received, according to a May 7 Liaoning Daily article.

The developments in Guangzhou and Chongqing follow several months of high-profile public discussions over the need to reform China's existing hukou registration system. On March 1, 13 Chinese newspapers jointly published an editorial calling for the abolishment of the hukou system―see previous CECC analysis on the joint editorial. And in February and March, Agricultural Minister Han Changfu, Politburo Member Zhou Yongkang, and Premier Wen Jiabao all mentioned the necessity of hukou reform in their public remarks and essays.

For more information on China's hukou system and migrant workers, please see Section II―Worker Rights in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2009 Annual Report and the CECC's topic paper on the hukou system.