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China's urbanization closing farmer-urbanite gap

Xinhua, June 18, 2014 Adjust font size:

Xu Shuping, a migrant worker in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, says he longer minds being called a "farmer," as China's drive toward better social welfare for new urbanites like him picks up pace.

The title "farmer," used in China for anyone registered as living in rural areas, has for years been related to many disadvantages in Xu's life in the city. It resulted in his disgust at the term.

"The first time I was so eager to become an urbanite was when my son reached the age for schooling," Xu remembers.

As a farmer-turned worker in the city, Xu was told he would have to pay an additional fee of as much as 30,000 yuan (4,785.7 U.S. dollars) for his son's education from primary school to high school in Chongqing.

Starting from 2010, however, the municipality has piloted a program to coordinate development between urban and rural areas. It includes an easing of restrictions on migrants obtaining a resident's household registration, or "hukou."

Without a local hukou, migrant workers in cities are barred from many public services, including education, housing, pensions and healthcare, in the places where they dwell.

In 2011, Xu successfully secured a hukou in Chongqing.

"With problems regarding my life in the city solved, I now feel no different from other urbanites," he says.

About 52.6 percent of the population in China live in cities. However, the proportion falls to 35.3 percent if the calculation is based on people's hukou.

Caught between the 17-point percentage gap are an army of over 200 million migrant workers who live in cities but do not have access to the same public services as other urbanites who hold a city hukou.

In a reform plan approved by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee last year, the country vowed to accelerate reform of the household registration system.

New worldwide attention has been placed on the reform program after British newspaper The Times on Monday published an article by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang listing three pressing tasks in China's urbanization. They include helping 100 million rural migrants enjoy resident status in cities and towns in eastern China, accommodating 100 million rural people in cities and towns in central and western China, and providing decent housing for 100 million people living in rundown urban areas.

"The approach in the country's urbanization cause over recent decades mainly cared about city expansion and the 'labor' in the city. The current new type of urbanization puts 'people' at its center, and it will feature policies with more of a human touch," says Zheng Fengtian, a professor with Renmin University of China.

However, experts also warn that the efforts to provide equal access of public services and integrate the 200-plus million migrants into cities will need to be sustained by sufficient funds, a bottleneck that has always thwarted China's urbanization in the past.

On Saturday, Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the Central Agricultural Work Leading Team, was quoted as saying that a new central government guideline set to step up hukou reform is likely to be unveiled soon.

Observers expect the guideline to include more practical solutions to China's urbanization issues.

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