Pop­u­la­tion grow­ing

Beijing’s house­hold reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem fac­ing big chal­lenge

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at dujuan@chinadaily.com.cn

I want to stay in the city af­ter grad­u­a­tion, so Beijing

hukou would give me a sense of se­cu­rity, and the right to buy prop­erty. Wang Xin, a 25-yearold grad­u­ate stu­dent at Beijing Nor­mal Univer­sity

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of re­ports look­ing at the ef­fects of hukou, China’s house­hold reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem, on the lives of or­di­nary cit­i­zens who have left their homes to work in other ar­eas and re­gions. More re­ports will fol­low in the weeks to come.

More than 20 mil­lion peo­ple live in Beijing, the cap­i­tal of China and one of the world’s great cities.

There are many ways to de­fine the city’s res­i­dents: gen­der; age; em­ploy­ment sta­tus; in­ter­ests; and per­son­al­ity. One cat­e­gory stands above all oth­ers, though — the hukou, or house­hold reg­is­tra­tion, sys­tem.

Un­like peo­ple’s per­sonal ID cards — sim­i­lar to a so­cial se­cu­rity num­ber in the United States— which can be used on most oc­ca­sions to de­ter­mine a per­son’s iden­tity, the hukou sys­tem can af­fect life at a much deeper level.

Un­der the sys­tem, which was in­tro­duced in the late 1950s, peo­ple are awarded hukou in the place their par­ents are reg­is­tered, ir­re­spec­tive of their place of birth. As long as the per­son re­mains in the area in which they are reg­is­tered, the sys­tem pro­vides them with ac­cess to ser­vices such as ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and pub­lic hous­ing, along with em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­tire­ment ben­e­fits.

How­ever, it is hard to trans­fer hukou, which means peo­ple who re­lo­cate for work or fam­ily rea­sons are of­ten un­able to reg­is­ter with the lo­cal author­ity, which de­nies them ac­cess to so­cial and ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices.

The prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly acute in Beijing, which sees thou­sands of new ar­rivals ev­ery year, swelling the pop­u­la­tion and pre­sent­ing the govern­ment with a ma­jor chal­lenge.

There are only a fewways of ob­tain­ing Beijing hukou. First, peo­ple can ap­ply if their par­ents were reg­is­tered in the city at the time of their birth. How­ever, peo­ple born in the cap­i­tal to un­reg­is­tered par­ents are in­el­i­gi­ble.

Sec­ond, grad­u­ates can ap­ply if they land a job in a govern­ment depart­ment, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion or a com­pany that has been al­lo­cated a hukou quota for Beijing.

Third, the Beijing govern­ment has the op­tion of grant­ing hukou to suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs and in­dus­try lead­ers, in bid to at­tract them to work or in­vest in the cap­i­tal.

China Daily can­vassed the views of un­reg­is­tered cit­i­zens in Beijing to dis­cover how they face the chal­lenges pre­sented by a lack of hukou and how they see their lives de­vel­op­ing.

Wang Xin, grad­u­ate stu­dent

Wang is search­ing for a job in Beijing. “To be hon­est, my main pri­or­ity is not a large salary or ca­reer devel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, but whether the em­ployer can of­fer me Beijing hukou or not,” said the grad­u­ate me­dia stu­dent at Beijing Nor­mal Univer­sity.

Wang, 25, was born in Harbin, in the north­east­ern prov­ince of Hei­longjiang, which means he is reg­is­tered there.

The greater num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties on of­fer in the cap­i­tal means he is re­luc­tant to re­turn to his home­town.

“If I re­turned to Harbin, I could only get a job with a lo­cal TV sta­tion at best. The plat­form in Beijing is much wider,” he said. “I want to stay in the city af­ter grad­u­a­tion, so Beijing hukou would give me a sense of se­cu­rity, and the right to buy prop­erty. More­over, if I get mar­ried here, my child will be able to at­tend a pub­lic school in Beijing.”

He added that mak­ing money is not his prime con­sid­er­a­tion at this stage in his life. Even so, it’s still get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult to find a job that of­fers hukou.

The rea­son is sim­ple: Too many peo­ple live in the city and the num­ber is grow­ing.

Faced with limited land, trans­porta­tion, med­i­cal ser­vices and ed­u­ca­tion re­sources, the govern­ment has stepped cau­tiously with re­gard to pop­u­la­tion man­age­ment.

As a re­sult, com­pa­nies that were pre­vi­ously able to of­fer a job with a Beijing hukou can no longer do so, be­cause the city govern­ment has cut the quota in re­cent years.

Mean­while, govern­ment de­part­ments and mu­nic­i­pal­level bu­reaus no longer ac­cept ap­pli­ca­tions from job seek­ers with­out Beijing hukou, which has closed the door to stu­dents such as Wang.

“I know that smog is a se­ri­ous prob­lem in Beijing and it’s harm­ful to peo­ple’s health, but I still want to make ev­ery ef­fort to stay be­cause it of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties that are not avail­able any­where else.”

Wan Ying, en­tre­pre­neur

In2002, Wa­nar­rived in Beijing from Zhoukou city, He­nan prov­ince, in South China to chase his dream of be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man.

Four­teen years later, his life is ap­proach­ing mid­dle-aged per­fec­tion. He brought his wife and chil­dren to the cap­i­tal in 2005, re­u­nit­ing the fam­ily of four af­ter three years of sep­a­ra­tion and hard work. He still doesn’t have hukou, though.

As the owner of two small su­per­mar­kets and two cars, the 41-year-old’s life is bet­ter than most other un­reg­is­tered res­i­dents, but the ab­sence of the small piece of pa­per still presents ob­sta­cles.

“My kids go to school in Beijing, so I fully un­der­stand that ed­u­ca­tion is one of the main rea­sons peo­ple are ea­ger to come to the city,” he said. “The teach­ing qual­ity is high, and the schools are well re­sourced. I would feel so sat­is­fied ifmy kids could con­tinue to study in the cap­i­tal.”

How­ever, the re­al­ity is that Wan’s chil­dren, ages 13 and 11, are not el­i­gi­ble to take the gaokao, China’s no­to­ri­ously gru­el­ing na­tional univer­sity en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion, be­cause they have hukou in their home­town, not in Beijing.

“My fam­ily might have to go back to Zhoukou for my son and daugh­ter’s ed­u­ca­tion,” Wan said.

Be­cause the exam varies from re­gion to re­gion, it is bet­ter for stu­dents to pre­pare for it in lo­cal schools where they can be coached on the key points and styles re­quired by the lo­cal testers, which will pro­vide a bet­ter chance of a high score and sub­se­quent en­roll­ment in a renowned univer­sity.

Wan’s son, who at­tends a mid­dle school in Beijing, will take the gaokao in June 2021.

“If the pol­icy hasn’t changed by then, we have to give up all we have here in Beijing and go back to He­nan,” Wan said.

Study­ing at col­lege is still one of the fairest ways to climb the so­cial lad­der in China. Even if Wan’s son has to take the exam in his home­town, there is a chance he will be ac­cepted by a col­lege in Beijing, which would bring him back to the cap­i­tal. By then, the rest of Wan’s fam­ily may have re­turned too.

The irony is that if Wan’s son grad­u­ates from col­lege af­ter four years, he will ex­pe­ri­ence the same prob­lem his father faces now — find­ing a job that will pro­vide Beijing hukou and make his life eas­ier.

Apart from con­cerns about his chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, Wan hasn’t felt dis­ad­van­taged by his lack of hukou.

“I have been in Beijing for nearly 15 years, and I’ve en­joyed lots of the ben­e­fits re­sult­ing from the city’s devel­op­ment,” he said.

Qin Fanyou, of­fice worker

“I didn’t used to care about Beijing hukou,” said Qin, a na­tive ofChongqing, a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in South­west China, who mar­ried in the cap­i­tal in Oc­to­ber.

The 26-year-old prefers her home­town: “If not for my hus­band, I would have re­turned to Chongqing af­ter I grad­u­ated from col­lege in Hong Kong,” she said. “It’s hard to find au­then­tic Chongqing-style restau­rants in Beijing — that’s my big­gest com­plaint here.”

In Qin’s opin­ion, there are plenty of job op­por­tu­ni­ties in South China, and Beijing is just one of sev­eral cities she could live in.

“I think peo­ple in North China like Beijing far more than those of us who come from the south,” she said. “Chongqing’s econ­omy has de­vel­oped quickly and I be­lieve I could find a pretty good job if I went back. How­ever, since I set­tled in Beijing, I have started to care about ob­tain­ing hukou be­cause I’m con­sid­er­ing bring­ing my par­ents to the cap­i­tal when they get old.”

Ac­cord­ing to Beijing mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment reg­u­la­tions, Qin will only be able to bring her par­ents to the cap­i­tal when they re­tire if she can ob­tain hukou. If that hap­pens, her par­ents will be able to en­joy sim­i­lar ac­cess to health­care as na­tive Bei­jingers.

Qin’s hus­band, a Beijing na­tive, has held hukou since birth, which means the cou­ple won’t face prob­lems ac­cess­ing health­care. More­over, they are el­i­gi­ble to buy an apart­ment and car, and their chil­dren will au­to­mat­i­cally qual­ify to at­tend the city’s pub­lic schools.

Ac­cord­ing to Qin, that means she and her hus­band are lucky com­pared with other young mar­ried cou­ples in the city, who will never be able to reg­is­ter as Beijing cit­i­zens.


Zhang Ziyu pre­pares food for cus­tomers at the noo­dle restau­rant she owns in Beijing. Even though she does not hold Beijing hukou, the Chongqing na­tive has been pur­su­ing her dreams in the cap­i­tal city for four years.


See more by scan­ning the code.

Zhang serves a dish to cus­tomers at her restau­rant.

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