Hukou system

Hukou system

A hùkǒu ( _zh. 户口) or hùjí (zh-c|c=戶籍) refers to the system of residency permits which dates back to the 1950s where household registration is required by law in mainland China and Taiwan.

A household registration record officially identifies a person as a resident of an area and includes identifying information such the name of the person, date of birth, the names of parents, and name of spouse, if married.

A hukou can also refer to a family register in many contexts since the household registration record (戶籍謄本, hùjíténgběn) is issued per family, and usually includes the births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and moves, of all members in the family. A similar household registration system exists within the public administration structures of Japan (koseki), Vietnam (Hộ khẩu) and North Korea (Hoju). In South Korea the Hoju system was abolished on 1 January 2008.


Family registers were in existence in China as early as the Xia Dynasty. In the centuries which followed, the family register developed into an organization of families and clans for purposes of taxation, conscription and social control.Fact|date=June 2008

According to the "Examination of Hukou" in Wenxian Tongkao published in 1317, there was a minister for population management during the Zhou Dynasty named Simin (zh-c|c=司民), who was responsible for recoding births, deaths, emigrations and immigrations. The Rites of Zhou notes that three copies of documents were kept in different places. The administrative divisions in Zhou Dynasty were a function of the distance to the state capital. The top division nearest the capital was named Dubi (zh-c|c=都鄙), top division in more distant areas were named Xiang (zh-c|c=乡) and Sui (zh-c|c=遂). Families are organized under the Baojia system.

Guan Zhong, Prime Minister of the Qi state 7th century BCE, imposed different taxation and conscription policies on different areas [Guanzi:国门内外,都鄙井田,山泽川隰] . In addition, Guan Zhong also banned immigration, emigration, and separation of families without permission [Guanzi:禁迁徙、止流民、圉分异] . In the Book of Lord Shang, Shang Yang also described his policy restricting immigrations and emigrations ["ibid" chapter 2:使民无得擅徙] .

Xiao He, the first Chancellor of the Han Dynasty, added the chapter of Hu (zh-c|c=户律) as one of the nine basic laws of Han (zh-c|c=九章律), and established the "Hukou" system as the basis of tax revenue and conscription.

Residency permits in mainland China

The Communist Party instigated a command economy when it came to power in the late 1940s. In 1958, Mao Zedong set up an hereditary residency permit system defining where people could work. Individuals were broadly categorised as a "rural" or "urban" worker.Macleod, Calum. [ "China reviews `apartheid' for 900m peasants"] , "The Independent", June 10, 2001.] A worker seeking to move from the country to urban areas to take up non-agricultural work would have to apply through the relevant bureaucracies. The number of workers allowed to make such moves was tightly controlled. Migrant workers would require six passes to work in provinces other than their own. People who worked outside their authorized domain or geographical area would not qualify for grain rations, employer-provided housing, or health care.David Pines, Efraim Sadka, Itzhak Zilcha, "Topics in Public Economics: Theoretical and Applied Analysis", Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 334.] There were controls over education, employment, marriage and so on.


With its large rural population of poor farm workers, hukou limited mass migration from the land to the cities to ensure some structural stability. The "hukou" system was an instrument of the command economy. By regulating labour, it ensured an adequate supply of low cost workers to the plethora of state owned businesses.

For some time, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security continued to justify these hukou system on public order grounds, and also provided demographic data for government central planning."The "hukou" system has been criticized in some quarters and has been called 'the equivalent of and apartheid system between rural and urban residents' ("China Labor Bulletin", February 25, 2002)." Laquian, Aprodicio A. "Beyond Metropolis: The Planning and Governance of Asia's Mega-Urban Regions", Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, pp. 320-321.]

The Hukou system has been justified by some scholars as increasing the stability of China by better monitoring of "Targeted persons", people who are politically dubious by the Party's standards, this is still a significant function as of 2006 [Yang, Dali (2007) Discontented Miracle: Growth Conflict and Institutional Adaptions in China, Singapore: World Scientific]


From around 1953 to 1976, Police would periodically round up those who without valid residence permit, place them in detention centres and expel them from cities.Waddington, Jeremy. "Globalization and Patterns of Labour Resistance", Routledge, 1999, p. 82.]

Administration regulations issued in 1982 known as "custody and repatriation" authorized police to detain people, and "repatriate" them to their permanent residency location.

Although an individual is technically required to live in the area designated on his/her permit, in practice the system has largely broken down. After Chinese market reforms, it became possible for some to unofficially migrate and get a job without a valid permit. Economic reforms also created pressures to encourage migration from the interior to the coast. It also provided incentives for officials not to enforce regulations on migration.

Technology has made it easier to enforce the Hukou system as now the police force has a national database of official Hukou registrations, this was made possible by computerisation in the 1990s, and greater co-operation between the different regional police authorities [Yang, Dali (2007) Discontented Miracle: Growth Conflict and Institutional Adaptions in China, Singapore: World Scientific]

Consequences on rural workers

From around 1953 to 1976, the enforcement of non-portable rights associated with one's domicile created an underclass. Urban dwellers enjoyed a range of social, economic and cultural benefits while China's 800 million rural population were treated as second-class citizens.Luard, Tim. [ "China rethinks peasant 'apartheid'"] , "BBC News", November 10, 2005.] However, the ruling party made some concessions to rural workers to make life in rural areas "survivable... if not easy or pleasant". Whitehouse, David. [ "Chinese workers and peasants in three phases of accumulation"] , Paper delivered at the Colloquium on Economy, Society and Nature, sponsored by the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, March 2, 2006. Retrieved August 1, 2007.]

From 1978 to 2001, as China transitioned from state capitalism to market capitalism, export-processing zones were created in city suburbs, where mostly female migrants worked under conditions considered far below contemporary standards of western nations. Restrictions placed on the mobility of migrant workers were pervasive, and transient workers were forced to live a precarious existence in company dormitories or shanty towns, and suffering abusive consequences.Chan, Anita. "China's Workers Under Assault: The Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy", M.E. Sharpe, 2001, p. 9.]

The impact of "hukou" system on migrant laborers became particularly onerous in the 1980s after hundreds of millions of were forced out of state corporations and co-operatives."Chinese apartheid: Migrant labourers, numbering in hundreds of millions, who have been ejected from state concerns and co-operatives since the 1980s as China instituted "socialist capitalism", have to have six passes before they are allowed to work in provinces other than their own. In many cities, private schools for migrant labourers are routinely closed down to discourage migration." "From politics to health policies: why they're in trouble", "The Star", February 6, 2007.] Since the 1980s, an estimated 200 million Chinese live outside their officially-registered areas, with much less access to education and government services, and in several respects occupy a social and economic status similar to illegal immigrants. The millions of peasants who have since quit the land remain stuck at the margins of urban society, and have been blamed for the rising crime and unemployment. Under pressure from their citizens, city governments impose discriminatory rules.

Analogies to apartheid

The "hukou" system has been described as "China's apartheid". ["Country Cousins", "The Economist", April 6, 2000.] "China's apartheid-like household registration system, introduced in the 1950s, still divides the population into two distinct groups, urban and rural." Chan, Anita & Senser, Robert A. [ "China's Troubled Workers"] , "Foreign Affairs", March / April 1997.] The gradual relaxation of some of the more repressive aspects of the "hukou" system since the mid-1990s has largely eliminated the spatial aspect of the "apartheid". However, as the "hukou" remains partially hereditary, the "substance of the social apartheid remains intact."

The similarity to South Africa's apartheid system end in two areas: Firstly, under a system called "xia fang", or "sending down", individuals or groups of urban workers were sometimes re-classified as rural workers and banished to the countryside (at lower wages and benefits), often as a sentence for "bourgeois imperialist crimes" during the Cultural Revolution; by contrast, white workers in South Africa were never sent to work in Bantustans. Second, the ideology driving China's apartheid system was Maoism, not racism. More significantly it is possible to move up from a rural to an urban hukou by obtaining a college degree and gaining employment by a corporation or the government.

Some Mainland Chinese-based scholars claim that though the Hukou system is discriminatory, it is no worse than the passport system keeping people from developing countries from resettling in the West. [Yang, Dali (2007) Discontented Miracle: Growth Conflict and Institutional Adaptions in China, Singapore: World Scientific] . A system which has been called global apartheidFact|date=April 2008


Reforming the residency system has been a very controversial topic within the PRC. Although the system in operation was widely regarded within the PRC as unfair and inhumane, there were fears that liberalisation would result in a massive influx to the cities which would stress already strained government services beyond the breaking point, and result in further economic loss to rural areas, rising social unrest and crime.

On the other hand, there has been recognition for some time that "hukou" is an impediment to economic development. China's accession to the World Trade Organisation has forced it to embrace this reform to liberalise the movement of labour, speeding up its economic reform [Yao, Shunli. [ "China's WTO Revolution"] , "Project Syndicate", June, 2002.]

The system has undergone further relaxation since the mid 1990s. The first relaxation allowed rural residents to buy a temporary urban residency permits, meaning they could work legally; fees for these decreased gradually to a fairly affordable level. The discrimination against rural women has been alleviated from 1998, when hukou became inheritable through either the father’s or the mother’s line.Au Loong-yu, Nan Shan, Zhang Ping. [ Women Migrant Workers under the Chinese Social Apartheid] , Committee for Asian Women, May 2007, p. 1.]

From 2001 onwards, "hukou" controls were weakened. In 2003, after the uproar surrounding the death of Sun Zhigang alarmed the authorities, the laws on Custody and repatriation were repealed; by 2004 the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture estimated that over 100 million people registered as "rural" were working in cities.

Household registration in Taiwan

When Taiwan was under Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945, the Japanese government maintained the same system of household registration (koseki) as they did in other parts of the Empire of Japan. This system of household registration, with minor changes, has been continued. Records concerning native Taiwanese are fairly complete. Records of Mainlanders date back to the date they first applied for registration with the local household registration office, and are based on information provided by the applicant.

While all ROC nationals, including overseas Chinese with no connection to Taiwan, can apply for a ROC passport, proper household registration is required for obtaining a ROC ID Card, which is often used as proof of citizenship, such as in national elections, and an ID number is needed to open bank accounts. Unlike in mainland China, residency can be easily changed with the local authorities and household registration does not serve as a tool to limit a resident's movements within Taiwan.

pecial administrative regions

Hukou is not employed in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, though identification cards are mandatory for residents there.

ee also

*Internal passport
*Domicile (law)


External links

* [ Visa Reciprocity and Country Documents Finder - Taiwan]
* [ SOUTH KOREA: Male-Oriented Family Registry System to Change in 2008]
* [ Wang Jianshuo: Hukou system in China]

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