Temporary Resident ... Forever(1)

By Yang Guang
Published: 2008-01-28

Temporary Resident … Forever
For years, many non-Beijingers have lived as "temporary residents" in houses they own under a system that rejects them as aliens in the city.

"For people like me, the more accomplished we are, the more rejected we feel in this city. How ironic!" laments Li, a middle class professional in his early thirties.

The Shanxi-born Li has lived in Beijing for seven years. Living alone in a basement at first, he now has a family and his own apartment. He can be proud of what he has achieved in the capital in under a decade.

"Everything looks beautiful on the surface," he says, but his bliss is often diluted by the thought of being a "temporary resident".

"As long as you don't have a Beijing hukou (household-registry), you will always live in your own house as a temporary resident despite the fact that you own everything here – the house, the car, your family, your career… " Li says.

As a migrant to the city, Li first obtained a temporary residence certificate which was necessary for applying for ownership of the house. He also had to approach the housing committee in his locality to validate his identity as a temporary resident. When Li saw the committee's paperwork, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The paper read: 1. I'm a migrant. 2. I'm a house owner. 3. I rented my house. 4. I live temporarily in my own house. 5. I live temporarily in a rented house. 6. I rented my house, but I'm still living temporarily in it. 7. I rented my house to myself…

Under the temporary residence certificate system, the paper must be renewed yearly. Technically, Li's eligibility as a "temporary resident" on his own property lasts only one year, yet, the paper allows him to apply for a homeowner certificate.

"In the end, I claimed ownership over the property for 70 years, and have the rights to an unconditional extension for another 70 years. But I remain a temporary resident, and only so for one year at a time," Li says.

Over the years, Li has applied for numerous temporary residence certificates to replace expired ones. The certificate is a passport to living in the city; one needs it when applying for driving license, for house rentals, and transfer and other official matters.

It is easy to obtain a temporary residence certificate by submitting one's identity card, three photos, and five yuan to the local police station. But to demand a house owner with a settled family to apply for one seems absurd.

This journalist is in the same predicament as Li. I approached the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau one day to consult them on my own dilemma.

"Why do I need to apply for a temporary residence certificate now that I have my own house? Does that mean I've rented my house to myself?"

"This is logical," said one officer. "You don't have a Beijing hukou, you are a temporary resident. Non-Beijing hukou holders belong to the migrant population. This does not contradict your homeowners' status—the house belongs to you, but your residence is considered as being temporary."

"How do you define migrating population from permanent residents?" I asked.

According to one officer, it is based on the place where one's hukou is registered. In other words, even if someone has spent most of their life in Beijing, a non-Beijing hukou citizen is still considered among the migrant population. Meanwhile, even if settling down in another place, a Beijing hukou holder is still a permanent resident of Beijing. The same rule applies nationwide.

My enquiries puzzled the officer, who claimed I was the first homeowner to have come to him demanding an explanation. He says, "Anyone without a Beijing hukou has to apply for the certificate. This has nothing to do with whether you have a house or not. Many outsiders have bought houses in Beijing and everybody knows the rules."

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