You are here: Home» Development News» Poverty Reduction

China Tries to Bridge Gap Between Urban, Rural Residents

Adjust font size:

He has been in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning province for eight years, where he worked his way up from a deliveryman too poor to buy a cotton overcoat to the owner of a large shoe store.

But 28-year-old Huang Zhixiong was still registered as a farmer in his household register.

A great success in the eyes of his fellow villagers in Fujian, Huang said his family of three were still living in a rented 50-square-meter apartment.

"Because I am not an urban citizen, I am not entitled to the low-rent housing or economically affordable housing the city government provides," he said bitterly. Unlike urban residents in the city, he had no social security, medical insurance or old-age insurance there.

His biggest wish now is to get his son urban resident identity rather than that of a farmer.

For more than 50 years, the word "farmer" not only means a job in China, but also determines one's social status. This is, however, about to be changed in a city in Southwest China.

The government of Chengdu, capital of populous Sichuan province, announced on Nov 16 that the city was to enforce a uniform household registry system, or hukou, for farmers and urban citizens alike, as a step to eliminate their difference.

According to Qin Daihong, a government official of Chengdu, the city will register urban and rural citizens in the same system. It will be one where details of residence, marriage, employment, tax, credit and social insurance are listed according to ID number.

This means that by 2012, urban and rural residents in the city will enjoy the same rights and be free to move between downtown areas and countryside, making Chengdu the first Chinese city to eliminate the difference between rural and urban hukou.

China began implementing the hukou system 52 years ago to reduce the mobility of people and maintain social order. According to the regulation, people's basic rights and social welfare were attached to their hukou.

Residents without a local hukou are not entitled to medical or social insurance from local governments and their children are not allowed to attend public school, unless they pay extra fees.

The system was helpful before China's opening up and reform, when budgets from the central government were limited.

However, it is becoming an obstacle to the country's urbanization as the population of migrants reached 211 million by the end of 2009, according to a report from the National Population and Family Planning Commission of China.

Yang Chunxing, vice director of the Guizhou Provincial Civil Affairs Department, noted that the system not only hindered free labor movement, but also generated inequality. "When a man was killed in a traffic accident, compensation for his family would be several times higher if he was an urban citizen rather than a farmer".

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed at the annual session of the National People's Congress this year to "propel reform of the hukou system by loosening requirements for migrants to obtain residency status in medium and small cities and towns."

In some provinces and municipalities, local hukou can be acquired if one buys property or invests a large sum of money.

The latest move of the reform was in the prosperous Guangdong province, which is the temporary home to more than 26 million farmer-turned-migrant workers. The province unveiled a scoring system in June.

A migrant worker will qualify for urban household registration once his or her scores reach a certain level. The children will also be able to register. They can earn different points due to their educational background, skill level, social security records and participation in charity activities like blood donations.

Through this system, more than 17,000 migrant workers became urban citizens in a month. But the change of their hukou means that they have to give up their plots of farmland back in their hometown, as only those registered as "farmers" are entitled to farmland.

In Chengdu, however, farmers don't have to give up their land while enjoying other public services, said Qin Daihong, the official. "They are not entering cities 'bare-foot', but with their shoes on," he said metaphorically.

"This is the most comprehensive hukou reform in China in recent years," said Lu Xueyi, a well-known sociologist who have long paid attention to the problems of rural areas and farmers. "The new policy not only allows farmers to go into cities, but encourages urban citizens to go to the countryside," he said.

The measure was welcomed by many farmers such as Zhang Wenjuan, who has been working in Chengdu for ten years.

While hoping to giving her two daughters better education in the city, she was reluctant to abandon her house and land in the Dayi county. "The environment of the countryside was good and I want to be back when I get old," she said. "I could open a shop for tourists. The cost of living back in my hometown was lower, much lower than in big cities."

However, the reform in Chengdu aroused concern about farmers' "city rush". Some people also feared that the rich in cities and real estate developers would start a new round of "enclosure movements" in the countryside.

"The high housing price in cities was prohibitive to farmers, but urban citizens may flood to the countryside to breathe the fresh air" said a comment by resident Ding Nan on a local website in Sichuan. "If this happens, can we ensure that the size of arable land will not be reduced?" he asked.

Yang Jirui, an economics professor with the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, noted that land in the rural areas had already been divided among farmers who received certificates as proof and there was a regulation to ensure the arable land remained untouched.

Further, Ge Honglin, mayor of Chengdu, vowed to create more job opportunities for farmers arriving in cities while Li Zuojun, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, noted that the rushes to move might happen, but would be only temporary. "Even if it happens, it is an unavoidable step of the reform," he said.

Huang Zhixiong hoped that the reform could take place before his son takes the college entrance exam in 15 years, "Then he would be able to take the exam in Shenyang, rather than back in his hometown," he said, "and become a real urban citizen, taking root in the city."

(Xinhua News Agency November 29, 2010)

Related News & Photos