Hukou (户口 hùkǒu)

China has a registration system for its residence referred to as the Hukou (户口 hùkǒu).

Basically, this is a residence permit that controls where a Chinese resident can and can’t legally live in China.

Originally, it was used to control people from moving out of the country side and into the urban cities. If you were born in one area, that is the area you were deemed to live. If you decided to move outside of your registered area, you (1) wouldn’t be allowed, (2) you wouldn’t qualify for any government benefits in the new area you lived, or (3) you could get jailed or sent back to your registered area. (It kind of sounds like being an illegal resident in your own country.)

Today, China still has this system in place but it is not enforced like it used to be. From what I understand, a Chinese resident can freely move around in China but still may not get all the benefits of a local area without a local hukou. So the system is not being enforced with “force” but it is being enforced by the availability of benefits, such as healthcare, attending public school, or graduating highschool and taking the college entrance exam.

For example, a farmer and his family move to larger city to find work with better pay. Their child can’t attend the local school, so they have to attend a private school for other kids like them. When it comes time for his senior year, the student must return to the “land of his hukou” so he can graduate and take the college entrance exam, even though his parents work in and live in another city. So here are the problems: Do you send the kid back for a year? Do you move your family back? Do you not send the kid back and not give him a chance to go to college?

As China continues to modernize and sees the need to allow its’ citizens to freely “move around” without penalty, there have been discussions of a reform of this system. We will see what China will do in the future with its’ new leadership and booming economy.

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