Living under the Hukou System

By Tang Xiangyang
Published: 2010-12-21

Earlier this year the EO gathered stories from Chinese citizens about their personal struggles due to the current household (hukou) registration system. A translation of some of their stories can be found below...

I dream of becoming a real Beijinger!
Name: Chang Baoan
Profession: Migrant Worker
Where his hukou is registered: Henan Province
Where he lives now: Beijing
Chang Baoan, a farmer born in Henan Province, moved to Beijing and started working as an architect in 2002. Three years later, his wife and three-year-old son came to join him.
Chang Baoan first came across problems brought about by the hukou system in 2005 when his son was old enough to go to kindergarten. Since Chang and his wife did not have a Beijing hukou, they had to pay a "sponsorship fee", which is unlawful but still exists in many Chinese cities, of 20,000 yuan per year in addition to normal school fees.
Unable to afford it, Chang was forced to send his son back to their hometown in Henan Province.
Things did not improve by 2008 when Chang decided to send his son to a Beijing primary school. That year, the "sponsorship fee" was 18,000 yuan.
Chang and his wife have long dreamed about buying a flat in Beijing, but without a fixed income, it is impossible for them to get a home mortgage. They might choose to buy more affordable policy-based houses, which the Beijing government provides for people with low-income, if either of them had a Beijing hukou.  Unfortunately, they don't.
Now, Chang has placed his dreams on his son: maybe one day he will be able to enroll in a Beijing college and get the opportunity to become a real Beijinger.
170,000 Yuan Yearly Income vs Beijing Hukou
Name: Zhang Fan 
Profession: Postgraduate student to graduate in 2010
Where her hukou is registered: Jiangxi Province
Where she lives now:  Beijing
When Zhang Fan refused her first job offer from China's leading search engine, Baidu, with a yearly income of 170,000 yuan, the only reason was: Baidu could not promise her a Beijing hukou.
Born in Jiangxi Province, Zhang Fan has made much more effort as a postgraduate student at China's Academy of Science than her Beijing peers do because it, like all of the other colleges in Beijing, sets more obstacles for applicants from other provinces than for those from Beijing. Zhang Fan views the inclusion of a Beijing hukou as the top sign of a good job because she hopes her children will not share the same fate as her. She also believes that only by becoming a registered Beijinger will she be able to feel safe in Beijing. 
Now, Zhang Fan is still waiting and struggling to get a job placement with a Beijing hukou which is, in her eyes, much more valuable than a yearly income of 170,000 yuan. 

Problems Brought About by the Hukou System Make me so Tired
Name: Jiang Yifei 
Profession: Company employee
Where his hukou is registered: Henan Province
Where he lives now: Wenzhou city, Zhejiang Province
For the past ten years, Jiang Yifei's life has been consumed by the desire to own a hukou registered anywhere in China.
Born in Henan Province, Jiang Yifei transferred his hukou to Luoyang city where his college was located in 1996. 
Three years later, he found a job in Wenzhou city in Zhejiang Province. Though his removal certificate (迁移证) which said his hukou would go to Wenzhou and his registration certificate(报到证), which, according to China's hukou system, serve as the legal documents for hukou removal were both accepted, his employer failed to provide him with a Wenzhou hukou. 
Two months later, he was fired and got his two certificates back. Not knowing what to do with them, he chose to mail them back to his college, hoping that his hukou would be automatically transferred back to his hometown.
Half a year later, Jiang went back to the college only to find that all his materials were lost. He applied for a new removal certificate and tried to register his hukou in Wenzhou City where he worked, but failed because his personal document, which is also necessary for legal hukou registration, was lost. 
During the past ten years, because of not having a hukou, Jiang could not get an ID card nor get married, and was unable to apply for a bank account. He gave all his money to his girlfriend who later left him after a big argument.
Fortunately, in 2008, the Chinese government lifted the ban for college graduates to go back to their hometown and now Jiang has his hukou registered in Henan Province where he was born.

I Wish all Chinese Had a Sense of Belonging
Name: Wu Guoliang 
Profession: Company employee 
Where his hukou is registered: Hubei Province 
Where he lives now: Shenzhen
Wu Guoliang found a job in Hangzhou City in Zhejiang Province after he graduated from a vocational secondary school in Hubei Province--his hometown. He left there half a year later because his employer did not provide him with a Hangzhou hukou and thus he could not enjoy the same benefits as residents.
In 2001, he went to Shenzhen where he got married and due to his hard work was able to buy a house. 
Wu has been scornful towards the hukou system. That's why he has not applied for a Shenzhen hukou even though his employer has provided the opportunity to do so. 
In 2009, Wu's wife gave birth to twins. They were three months premature and needed to be hospitalized for two months which cost over 200,000 yuan. Because Wu and his wife did not have a Shenzhen hukou, their children were deprived of the right to be covered by Shenzhen's childhood health insurance, which meant, Wu had to pay all the expenses himself. 
This experience convinced Wu to transfer his Hubei hukou to Shenzhen. He was almost successful, but when the local police station required his wife to accept tubal ligation surgery because the Chinese government does not allow rural households to have more than two children and they already had two he refused. 
Several months later, Wu's older son had a bad fall and hurt his head; the medical expenses incurred from the fall cost Wu over 100,000 yuan. 

The Hukou System has Deprived my Daughter of the Right to Participate in the College Entrance Examination!
Name: Chen Xin 
Profession: Company employee 
Where her hukou is registered:  Hainan Province 
Where she lives now:  Beijing
Chen Xin has been a Beijing taxpayer since 2000 when she moved her family from Hainan Province to Beijing. But, without a Beijing hukou, she and her family have suffered.
Chen Xin's daughter has been studying in Beijing since she was five years old.  Alhough Chen and her husband have paid personal income tax totaling over 100,000 yuan to the Beijing government over the past ten years; she still has to pay a yearly "sponsorship fee" to schools to ensure her daughter will have the right to education.
Despite paying years of school fees for her daughter, Chen Xin's daughter had trouble taking part in the nationwide college entrance exam. 
Beijing only accepts those students with a local registered hukou to enter the college entrance exam and Hainan Province refused to accept Chen Xin's daughter because it only allows those who have been studying in Hainan for three consecutive years to participate in the local College Entrance Exam. Therefore, the only path for her daughter is to go and study abroad which will be a great burden on this so-called middle class family.

I Pray that the Hukou System will be Changed!
Name: Zhu Shengkun 
Profession: Company employee
Where his hukou is registered: Henan Province
Where he lives now: Hangzhou City in Zhejiang Province

When Zhu Shengkun was a senior in high school, his parents, by paying a large amount of money, were able to get him hukou registration in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province where the educational sector is not so developed and universities have lower requirements for recruitment.  Zhu's parents wanted to ensure that he would be accepted by high level universities after he took the college entrance exam. Their trick was exposed only three days before the exam, but Zhu still managed to attend college.
After he graduated from college, Zhu decided to participate in the civil servant entrance examination, first in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, then in Beijing, but was refused participation because he did not have a local hukou.  

Obtaining a Hukou with Dignity
Name: Zhang Minghua 
Profession: Migrant worker
Where his hukou is registered: Anhui Province 
Where he lives now: Beijing
Zhang Minghua, who came to work in Beijing from a poverty-stricken county in Anhui Province 20 years ago, is now a labor contractor.
His daughter, who is currently studying in Miyun County's Number 2 Middle School in Beijing, is going to enroll in the college entrance examination in June. Her hukou is in Anhui, so she needs to take the examination in their hometown and cannot enjoy the preferential policies for students who have a Beijing hukou.
For the past ten years, Zhang has been constantly trying to transfer his daughter's hukou to Beijng, but he has finally given up.
Ten years ago, he needed to pay 3000 yuan each year for his elder daughter Xiaoli to go to primary school. Upon returning home after school, Xiaoli always complained that her teacher handed out presents to her other classmates and not her saying that only students with a Beijing hukou could get the presents.
When a friend told him that he could buy a hukou for his daughter, he began to search for a hukou seller everywhere until he was cheated by a vegetable seller who lived near him that he had provided 20,000 yuan as cash deposit to.
When another person told him that if he bought a house in Beijing he could get his daughter a Beijng hukou, he also tried this method, but due to lack of government connections, this method failed as well.
Zhang can now only encourage his daughter to get good grades on the college entrance exam, and study in one of the universities of Beijing, so she can obtain a Beijing hukou with dignity.

A Multi-Generational Hukou Struggle
Name: Gu Bo (pseudonym)
Profession: Company employee 
Where his hukou is registered: Hunan Province
Where he lives now: Beijing
Gu's hometown is in the countryside of Rucheng County, Hunan Province. When he was very little, his father went to Guangdong to work in a collective.
Gu's father was one of the first group of workers who qualified to purchase a Guangdong hukou. Gu's father's identification changed from a Hunan farmer to a Guangdong laborer successfully in 1992, after paying 6,000 yuan.
Gu and his little sister then became stay-at-home children (留守儿童).
In 1994, Gu and his sister's hukou were also transferred to Guangdong for the cost of 7,200 yuan.
In 1998, Gu enrolled in one of Beijing's universities.
When Gu graduated from school in 2002, most of the students in his class began feverishly looking for work and studying for the civil service exam with the objective of getting a Beijing hukou.
Gu was offered two opportunities: one doing planning work for a real estate company earning 3,000 yuan each month, another as a civil servant in a town government in the outskirts of Beijing earning 900 yuan per month. With the choice of 3,000 versus 900 yuan, Gu chose the first and gave up the chance to be a civil servant with a Beijing hukou.
Gu did not feel the effects of lacking a Beijing hukou until he got married and wanted to have a baby. Both Gu and his wife do not have a Beijing hukou, so they needed to travel to their hometown to get a zhunshengzheng  准生证 (a certificate which permits a woman to have a baby).
Once they obtained the certificate, Gu could not feel complete happiness; he began to worry about the future of his child. He said that a hukou caused his parents trouble in the past, and now is bringing trouble upon him, Gu does not want it to continue to trouble his child in the future. 

An Outstanding Migrant Worker
Name: Liu Guoyan
Migrant worker
Where his hukou is registered:
Anhui Province
Where he lives now:
Liu Guoyan came to Nanjing in 1991, and after 18 years of hard work now owns his own company. In 2008, he was given the award of "national outstanding migrant worker". In July, 2009, he became the first migrant worker to obtain a Nanjing hukou.
This should have been a positive event for the whole family, but it was not. Although the hukou gave Liu's family urban residency, they were not provided with healthcare and old age insurance.
It is hard to get a Nanjing hukou, and it is even harder to enjoy the same privileges as other urban residents.
Liu said that he does not care about the money he needs to pay for healthcare and old age insurance, what he really cares about is whether the city and the people who live in it will acknowledge his identity.

This article was edited by Ruoji Tang and Rose Scobie