Administration of the household registration (hukou) system (1998-1999) [CHN32624.E]

For information regarding the administration of the household registration (hukou) system, current to September 1998, please refer to the Research Directorate publication China: Internal Migration and the Floating Population (September 1998). According to Country Reports 1998:

The Government places some restrictions on freedom of movement. The effectiveness of the Government's household registration/identification card system, used to control and restrict the location of individual residences, continued to erode. The "floating population" of economic migrants leaving their home areas to seek work elsewhere in the country is estimated to be between 80 and 130 million. This group comprises not only migrant workers, but also includes a growing number of middle-class professionals attracted to large cities by hopes of better paying jobs in their fields. This itinerant population lacks official residence status, which is required for full access to social services and education. Unless such persons obtain resident status, they must pay a premium for these services. However, some cities, such as Beijing, are beginning to offer social services free of charge. In August the Public Security Ministry issued revised regulations that allow persons from the countryside to apply for permanent residence in a city if: 1) They have investments or property in a city; 2) they are elderly and have children who live in a city; or 3) their spouses live in a city (Section 2.d) (1999).

According to the Fuzhou Fujian Ribao of 7 August 1998, the Fujian Provincial People's Congress had adopted regulations "Governing the Security of the Floating Population." According to Article 6 of the regulations "All people 16 years or older who come to their temporary residence for industrial or business activities should apply for a temporary household registration within seven days at a local public security detachment or temporary household registration centre." According to the Fuzhou Fujian Ribao, Article 12 states that "As for those in the floating population who do not possess legal identification, have no permanent residence, and have no legitimate means of support, public security organs and concerned departments may examine, detain, or repatriate them to their places of origin."

According to an article by Linda Wong and Huen Wai-Po published in the Winter 1998 International Migration Review, the household registration systems in the cities of Shanghai and Shenzhen are undergoing reform intended to attract only the most desirable migrants to those cities.

The following information regarding the current status of the hukou system was provided by a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, who has published extensively on the subject of internal migration in China:

The hukou system still has some meaning but with open markets for virtually everything, it is far less powerful than in the past. Its main value is in letting children go to school. There were some important revisions last summer that allowed children to choose the hukou of either parent, and eventually this may eliminate the barriers. Most urban people already have housing. Outsiders need to purchase or rent housing, or live in their work unit's dorms or in the streets, construction sites, or open markets. Purchasing housing is pretty expensive, but if you want to buy the unit you already live in, and if you're an urban hukou person you can get some financial help from your unit. But all social services, including health care, education, and pensions are far less available or are now costly, as compared with the past, when city hukou people could count on them and they were virtually free. The regional variation is mainly seen in the much higher cost of purchasing a hukou (or schooling, health care, etc.) in the larger, more attractive cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. With urban unemployment now soaring, many cities are trying to restrict the ability of farmers from obtaining certain jobs in the cities and in some cases are trying to get rural people to leave the cities. (18 Aug. 1999).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998. 1999. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 26 Feb. 1999]

Fuzhou Fujian Ribao. 7 August 1998. "Fujian Regulations on Control of Floating Population." (FBIS-CHI-98-233 21 Aug. 1998/WNC)

International Migration Review. Winter 1998. Vol. 32. No. 4. Linda Wong and Huen Wai-Po. "Reforming the Household Registration System: A Preliminary Glimpse of the Blue Chop Household Registration System in Shanghai and Shenzhen."

Professor of Political Science, University of California, Irvine. 18 August 1999. Correspondence.