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INTRODUCTION

Notes
I. Allhough in the years immediately after 1949 the system was also
trace Guomindang members, fleeing landlords, and other unwanted eleme1ots.
2. Presumably, this is a translation of jizhu, which is used by the
Security authorities to refer to long-term migrants. This term was rendered
"attached" in the translation of Shi Songjiu's article.
References
Chan, Kam Wing (1994) Cities with Invisible Walls, Reinterpreting
zation in Post--1949 China. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
Chan, Karn Wing, and Xu Xueqiang (1985) "Urban Population Growlh
Urbanization in China Since 1949: Reconstructing a Baseline,"
Quarterly 104:583-{)13.
Cheng, Tiejun, and Mark Selden (1994) "The Origins and Social Consequ<:n<
ofChina's Hukou System," China Quarterly 139:644-{)8,
Christiansen, F. (1991) "Social Division and Peasant Mobility in
China: The Implications oflhe Hu-k'ou System," Issues and Studies
42.
Kirkby, R. J. R. (1985) Urbanization in China: Town and Country
Developing Economy 1949--2000. London and Sydney: Croom Helm.
Mallee, Hein ( 1994) "Refonning the Hukou System: The Experiment
'Urban Registration with Self-Supplied Grain'," in Dong Lisheng (ed.)
ministrative Reform in the People's Republic of China since
Leiden: International Institute for Asian Studies: 100-20.
--(1995) "China's Household Registration System under Reform,"
velopment and Change 26(1 ).
Potter, Sularnilh Heins (1983) "The Position of Peasants in Modern
Social Order," Modem China 9(4):465-99.
SWB FE/1911 G/9-11 2 February 1994. "Government Moving toward
ofHousehold Registration System."
SWB FE/2067 G/6-8 6 August 1994. "Party Propaganda Magazine
Household Registration Reform."
Walder, Andrew G. (1984) "The Remaking of lhe Chinese Working
1949--1981," Modern China, 10,1:3-48.
Zhang Qingwu (1988) "Basic Facts on lhe Household Registration
and trans. by M. Dutton, Chinese Economic Studies 22(1 ).
"Registration Taboo"*
people's fate is intimately tied up with "registra-
Re,gistrartion" keeps the Chinese fixed in two com-
separate ranks: urban people and rural people.
of this, China time and again has its "registra-
doctor of some repute, spent much energy and all
on the "rural-to-urban transfer'' of registra-
wife, who was teaching in the countryside, and
children. ln 1987, after he had paid up the 8,400
registration increase fee and obtained urban reg-
for the four of them, he solemnly said to his entire
cannot leave you another inheritance in this life, I
you this urban registration."
their registration problem could not be solved, a
ethnology had to live apart from his wife, who
borde:rcity, for ten long years. In order to contain
for 3,000 nights he practiced standing on his
bed, so as to maintain his mental and physical
an old police officer who had been en-
work for many years said to this re-
a hoarse throat: "There is not a single registra-
Zhongguo qingnian [China's Youlh], 1989,6: 4-{),
15
16 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY
CHINA'S "REGISTRATION TABOO" 17
is registration so magical? Because behind each
are economic and social factors that are of great
tion officer whose throat is not hoarse." There are really
many people demanding a solution to their reg:istJrati<
problem, and you have to talk and explain to every one
them, but who believes these explanations? Some of the aims of the new household registration regula-
kneel and kowtow to the registration officer as soon as were formulated after the establishment of the
enter the door, begging and pleading in tears, and Republic was to facilitate centrally controlled dis-
even bring a rope and say that if they don't get the reg:ist" and employment, and to restrict urban population
tion they will hang themselves. At the same time, however, registration was used to
The national rural-to-urban transfer rate of two illsurmountable walls around cities, as protection
I 0,000 absolutely cannot fill actual needs. In the city other cities and the countryside. Those born in the
Anshan alone, the accumulated number of applications were cast aside onto the yellow earth because
rural-to-urban transfer at the city's public security single sheet of registration paper, to be the object of
has reached II ,000. As the annual quota for migration procurement" and to bear the brunt of the "scissors
the city is only about 2,200 people, even leaving aside Those born in the city seemed to have been naturally
annual increase in the number of "rural-to-urban with the right to enjoy "unified distribution" of
applicants and just taking the accumulated stock, it and artisan products at low prices, generous
take over seven years to process all applications. subsidies, state-arranged education and employ-
In the mining industry alone, there are six million publicly financed medical care, etc. Moreover, the
pies in all of China living separately because their the city, the better the welfare benefits, the more
tion problem cannot be solved. When these "cowherds the rights, and the more valuable the registration.
weaving girls" meet once a year, they crowd into 50, single-page registration determines the fate of a per-
railway carriages and 100,000 public buses. The state son, of a family, and even of several generations of people.
to pay 2.3 billion yuan in travel expenses every year for this. If you want to change your fate, you fust need to change
And then there are all the examples of despicable your registration.
tices: genuine and fake divorces, bribery, extortion
blackmail, and illegal malfeasance.
Even among large cities of the same rallk, such as
jing, Tianjin, and Shanghai, eight or ten years of trying
get one's registration resolved to unite with family, or
transfer to one's ideal job, is often fruitless. TherE:fOJ:el
some talented people have no choice but to go abroad
unite as man and wife.
In the entire world, there are only three countries that use
registration to restrict population mobility, and China is
one of them. The closed registration system has smothered
the nature of the Chinese people. A commodity economy
requires free mobility of the populace.
At present, in the entire world only China, the Demo-
cratic People's Republic of Korea, and Benin in Central
I8 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY
Africa employ registration to restrict population mobilil
system has a long history. Making
Istratwn mto an mstrument for restricting population
ity and preventing social disorder started with the "Law
Guilt by Association of Household Groups" in the state of
Although later the dynasties changed, and the registration
tern was somewhat changed, the goal of controlling people
not weaken, but on the contrary was strengthened. It was
ways like this, no matter whether we talk about the "S\rstem
Clan Head Household Supervision" of the Wei Jm'
, .
Northern and Southern dynasties or about the "Baojia
of Guilt by Association" of the Yuan dynasty.
After the establishment of New China, the
restrictions were very flexible for some time. The first
stitution stipulated that citizens had the freedom of
tion. Yet in those days there was no chaos because of
ants flowing into the cities in large numbers. To obtain
registration, one went to the police substation and had
resolved in half an hour. Later, as the unitary planned
omy was implemented and "class struggle taken as the
link," registration practice became stricter and stricter
the restrictions on population mobility more and more '
gent. During the Cultural Revolution, everyone leaving
three days had to report for temporary registration and
subjected to supervision.
When we open the migration history of the Chinese
no matter whether it was the large north-south
movements of the Wei, Jin, and Northern and Sonti1Prr
Dynasties, the Tang and Song periods, or the dispersal
the urban population during the three years of difficulties
the movement of educated youths to the countryside after
eration, almost all were connected with war, disaster, and
CHINA'S "REGISTRATION TABOO" I9
:t)o
11
err
1
ents, and all fall under passive migration.
,<fa.mcms Chinese sayings go: "Running water is
and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten," and "Of
stratagems, the best is running away." But when
to "flow" or want to "run away," the first thing
ncc
1
unter is the fetters of registration. And we are not
about the registration in feudal society that did "not
;all,ous chaotic practices"; no, it is in this day and age
who applies for a "rural-to-urban transfer'' regis-
to get five certificates, obtain nine official stamps,
!'Qn
1
pl,ete eleven procedures. When it is this hard to mi-
change registration, who would not become ex-
Over the course of time, it has become the mental and
habit of the Chinese to spend their entire lives in one
to think of moving residence, to attach themselves to
non1es, unwilling to leave and start new undertakings. In
on average every person migrates only I. 7 times in a
whereas in developed countries, every year about 20
of the people migrate.
it is egalitarian by nature, the commodity economy
that people roam around everywhere, set up homes
:t semll: down everywhere, and start undertakings every-
But in China, those shouldering the commodity
onomy have trouble moving, as they are confined every-
by the shackles of registration.
'''<"'''f)n American company started a business in China and
to recruit 200 technicians and managers; to this mo-
Nu."u,
4
however, they have managed to employ only 60. Martin
representative in Beijing of the National Council for
>IJ:i:l .. Trade does not mince words: "The main headache
joint ventures in China is that labor is immobile." These
. bosses do not know what the registration system that is
20 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY CHINA'S "REGISTRATION TABOO" 2I
behind the immobility of labor means to the Chinese. a choice between two options. Which should
Due to the restrictions of the registration system in
jing, the National Circus, except for a single round of e:co
111
mny is to be liberalized, registration must be
cruitment in the entire nation just after the establishment But can registration be thoroughly loosened when
the People's Republic (in 1953), has in the more than differences still persist unchanged, and the ur-
years of its existence been restricted to recruiting in the pu
1
autuu is expanding?
and suburban countryside of Beijing, while close at hand chief of the bureau of public order of the minis-
Wuqiao, Hebei Province, which is famous as the home security, says: "In the People's Congress there
Chinese acrobatics, the cream of the artists can only who say that we of the Ministry of Pub-
and sigh. are blocking liberalization of registration, but
In 1984, a state textile enterprise in Hangzhou, really treating us unjustly. We have repeatedly writ-
Province, planned to recruit I ,395 workers. However, to the departments concerned at higher levels
urban youths disliked the tiring work and were how it should be liberalized, and by how much, but
do it, while rural youths could not be recruited because single department dares to nod. The static population
had no urban registration. As a result, only one-third past was easy to manage; as soon as a case took
planned complement could be employed. we could more or less tell the whereabouts of the
Inevitably, sharp contradictions develop between elements. Now, with the increase in the floating
open economy, which is guided principally by the these methods don't work any more. Now reg-
and the current closed registration system in China. has lost its binding force in the countryside, and if
transfer of rural surplus labor, the imbalances of urban FCIJC!es are opened up further, can they endure the sudden
bor demand, the labor needed by the development oflaomlr>):(fitl.ux'?"
intensive sectors in the open cities, the convergence of head of the public security bureau of Beijing, Su
tellectuals and technicians required by has a distinctive view on liberalization of reg-
sectors, all require that the people who form the core "There is only one capital, and if registration is
commodity economy can freely change residence and liberalized chaos is inevitable. Beijing now has a floating
mobile. Registration not only drags down people's 'p.opulation of over a million, which has brought huge pres-
ity, it also constrains the vitality of the economy. sure to bear upon public order in the capital. In 1987, the
/f registration is liberalized, will China face the danger
an uncontrolled urban population explosion? IJ the nv>mflll
registration situation is continued, how can we speak
developing a commodity economy? China's retr?istratio,/1
floating population committed 14,776 crimes and 90,000
violations of public order regulations, while 50,000 people
were involved in illegal trading. Registration control in Bei-
jing needs strict measures and reform must be done the safe
way."
22 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND AmHROPOLOGY
In Shanghai, the head of the registration section of
public security bureau, Shi Songjiu, feels that "the
tions for liberalizing registration are not there yet. In
hai, eight yuan of food subsidies a month are tied to
permanent registration; if the present I .8

floating population are given permanent registrations
increase in financial state subsidies of I 4 million '
month would be needed, which is over a billion
year. If you add the provision of urban housing, tra:ns]porl
tion, and foodstuffs, Shanghai would not be able to
The population assault on the open city of UuLanJgzh
1
has been even fiercer. Guangzhou planned to restrict
population in the year 2000 to 2.5 miiiion, but it has
reached 2. 7 million. The floating population has n 1Cr<eas
1
even more sharply. In recent years, the crinle rate
the floating population has also risen dramaticaiiy. The
mous "four sons and one guy" have caused profound
among the Cantonese. The "sons of Guangxi" engage
such activities as prostitution and selling pornography.
"sons of Shenyang" loot and kill. The "sons of .
steal and beg. The "sons of Chaozhou" smuggle, cheat,
sell fake merchandise. The "guys from sm1Ligg
and sell antiquities and regional specialties. The influx
migrant workers into Guangzhou after the spring
this year has already sounded the population alarm.
Some scholars researching population problems
however, that restricting population mobility with the
cuse of nrban management problems is just a ba1;kvva11
passive way of dealing with it. Tan Jian, director of
Institute for Research of the Political System of the Chines
Academy of Social Sciences, says: "The freedom to
an occupation and to migrate should be the most
CHINA'S ''REGISTRATION TABOO" 23
enjoy, and we cannot rob them of this right
);
1
wuse of urban management problems; even less
to the low quality of urban management
:re:strictiiJns on registration. Every society will al-
its unlawful elements, and we cannot subject the
the shackles of registration and let them be pun-
just because the phenomenon of law-breaking
among the floating population. On the con-
ic 1nust raise the quality of urban management in the
of reform and economic opening, and loosen the
restrictions to suit the larger tendency towards
mobility."
f.,mltional conference on the problems and policy of
population in large cities, convened in 1987 in
confirms that the rapid increase of the floating
has poured new vigour into the socioeconomic
)prne11t of the large cities, as weii as having brought a
new problems to the cities. In comparison, the
outweigh the problems, since the increase in the
population has speeded up the transformation of
cities from closed economies with unitary func-
t0111'ald an open economy with multiple functions, and
been a powerful stimulus to the urban commodity
Therefore, since the emergence of the floating
llla1ion has brought more positive than negative aspects
development of the commodity economy, what rea-
there not to liberalize nrban registration? Is China
liberalize?
the spring festival of 1989, the railway stations,
piers, and long-distance bus stations oflarge cit-
as Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Shenyang
overcrowded with peasants leaving for work. For
24 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY
some time, the urban system of these large cities,
was overloaded to start with, began to pant as1:hn1aticalb
and the city dwellers were worried about the assault
traffic, public order, hygiene, and food and accorrltnc,datio
supplies from the explosion of the floating population.
state council and the various local governments were
to adopt measures to mobilize large numbers of
migrants to return to their villages and take up
This alarm signal to the floating population no doubt
people that in liberalizing the urban "registration
China runbs the risk of the cities getting out of controL
course, present-day China cannot take this risk.
Therefore, liberalization of the "registration taboo,
and this applies in particular to the urban "registration
boo"--{)an be no more than a process, and the f'm>tr,,rl;"
tions we must resolve are the huge rural-urban gap, as
as the policies regarding urban housing, prices, and we!Htri
that exist in reforms.
The "separation of person and registration" model
Shenzhen-break the relationship between registration
all kinds of state welfare benefits--{lllows the law
to regulate registration and seeks an end to the nr.>dit,n.
ment inherent in reform and opening up.
While people are still incessantly debating whether or
to liberalize urban registration, and hesitate to advance,
Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen, which has led
in reform and economic opening, has taken the lead
and set the first steps in registration reform. In order to be
high-level, open economic zone facing the world and to
within the fierce competition of the international m<trkt:t,
Shenzhen City needs to maintain a large, high-quality,
CHINA'S "REGISTRATION TABOO" 25
labor pool, and this requires that the labor
to market demand for continual mobility. In
. the contradictions arising from registration,
City has recruited a large number of laborers
Sb
1
enzht:n registration for foreign enterprises and
:nnll'es, according to the principle of "separation of
registration." They can enter and leave, come
is work and return when there is no work, with-
subject to registration restrictions; their food,
housing, and travel are completely regulated by
and they receive treatment on a par with the
citizens of Shenzhen. Shenzhen has already re-
240,000 laborers from other areas under these prin-
. and I 00,000 of them are permanent positions. And
has not experienced a population surge, an
increase in unemployment, deterioration in living
or chaos in public order because of this; on the
, it is full of vigor. This kind of method, where
registration and state welfare subsidies are separated,
!ac:co1rd with the needs of development of the commod-
!co:norny, and has great vitality.
urbanization of the population is an inevitable trend
development of human society. In the process of
ian.izattion, social labor pains such as population surges,
social and public order, and increases in the unem-
JVrrten1 rate cannot be avoided. But we cannot slow the
Clvance of urbanization because of this. Ma Xia and other
of the Institute of Demography of the Chinese
)aderntv of Social Sciences suggest dividing cities into
that need reduction of population pressure, areas that
to be developed in a controlled way, and areas that
.S.IIould be vigorously developed, thereby allowing the rural
26 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY
population to flow into the cities with a goal. At the
time we can loosen the registration restrictions on migrat
into cities, by allowing mobility and migration among
of equal size, and by allowing the free mobility of
tuals and technicians with high educational att:ainme
1
The construction of China's middle-sized cities and
market towns should be greatly developed, the channels
population mobility should be strengthened and expar
1
d
and the population pressure on the large cities lessened.
!tht!D Management of the
Population*
of Floating Population Management
population that exists in China is a special
that has evolved under China's unique social
conditions-that is, the basic national situ-
China and its policy of reform and openness to the
world. From the perspective of long-term develop-
it will exist for a long period and, moreover,
onl:im1e to grow. We are working within a commodity
under socialist conditions, the essence of which is
planned; therefore, the floating population cannot
to develop blindly, and its size, composition,
and direction must be in accordance with the pace of
eccmoJmic development in city and countryside. If the
population were to be allowed to develop spontane-
without control, and be allowed to flow in and out of
anarchistically without planning, through the
regulation" practiced in market economies, it
no doubt be very harmful in theory and practice, and
-vic>lation ofthe planned socialist commodity economy.
because a commodity economy needs population
One, Section Four, pp. 11-15, in Shi Songjiu (ed.), Liudong renkou
of the Floating Population] (Shanghai: Shanghai kexue puji
27