Hukou Reform in Chengdu Municipality

March 31, 2011

The government of Chengdu municipality, Sichuan province initiated household registration (hukou) reform in November 2010 that seeks to eliminate the rural-urban hukou divide. China's hukou system classifies Chinese citizens as either rural or urban hukou holders, and local governments may restrict access to some social services based on the hukou classification. Rural hukou holders who live in urban areas are most affected by the classification. The Chengdu reform aims to unify all residents who currently hold a local hukou under a single identification system based on residents' actual place of residence. If successfully implemented, the reform could allow greater access to social services for some current rural hukou holders. The Chengdu hukou reforms also appear to be intended in part to make more rural land available for development.

 In November 2010, Chengdu municipality issued the Opinions Regarding the Unification of Chengdu Urban and Rural Hukou To Achieve Freedom of Movement. According to the Opinions, the current hukou system will be unified by 2012 into a single identification system based on persons' place of residence for purposes of concentrated community relocation (jijuzhu or nongcun jizhong juzhu), marriage and population control, employment, taxes, creditworthiness, and social benefits (shehui baoxian). If successfully implemented, the Chengdu reform could supplant the hukou system established in 1958 that has been a major barrier to obtaining social benefits for some rural hukou holders living in Chengdu's urban areas. The Opinion sets forth 12 articles covering a range of topics concerning the unification of the hukou system. For example:

  • Although not affirmatively stated in the Opinion, the Chengdu government has made it clear that the unified registration system is not currently premised on rural residents giving up their contracted land (chengbao di) in exchange for urban hukou;
  • A unified system of unemployment benefits (Art. 2), social insurance (Art. 3), and housing assistance programs (Art. 4);
  • Implementation of equal access to compulsory education, allowing students to enroll in public schools where they reside (Art. 7).

The Chengdu reform is the latest effort by the government to address disparity based on hukou , especially in the area of education. In recent years, local governments have instituted polices intended to reform the hukou system. The key provisions of these reforms allow rural hukou holders who meet specified criteria (which usually include income, education, and special skills) to acquire urban hukou. Such reforms are aimed at attracting elite rural hukou holders with wealth and education to urban areas.

The Chengdu reform differs from previous hukou reforms in that it seeks to include all residents who currently hold a local hukou. However, the reform's key feature of allowing rural hukou holders to maintain their contracted land is a temporary provision. It is meant to ease the rural-to-urban transition, according to statements made by Qin Daihong, the deputy director of Chengdu city's coordination committee to the Global Times. According to a December 3, 2010, Economic Observer article, "… although it is clear that the current hukou reform does not call for rural residents to give up their land and rural property, as soon as they settle down into urban areas, their land and properties will need to be dealt with sooner or later."

One of the driving forces behind the Chengdu hukou reform appears to be the need for more land for urbanization. According to the Global Times article, "the ultimate goal of reform, is to engineer a smooth and advanced urbanization process"―meaning more rural land must be made available for economic and industrial development. However, according to the Economic Observer, Chengdu rural residents have been reluctant to move to urban areas, not allowing rural land to be freed up for urbanization―only 200 rural residents have moved voluntarily thus far. The current situation appears to be at odds with the goals of the hukou reform. It is unclear what consequences, if any, rural hukou holders might encounter should they decide to stay on rural land.

For more information on hukou, see Section II―Freedom of Residence and Movement in the CECC 2010 Annual Report and also see this CECC issue paper.